Tucker Greenhouse update on our very own Titan Arum plant (Stinker)

Amorphophallus titanum, commonly called Titan Arum, or Corpse plant is a tropical plant native to Indonesia.  It’s a member of the Araceae or Arum family.  The members of this family have an unusual inflorescence known as a spathe and spadix.  The spadix portion is a spike consisting of many fleshy, small unisexual flowers. This spike is subtended, or surrounded by a spathe portion or leaf-like bract.  The Titan Arum inflorescence is the largest inflorescence in the world. Its unisexual flowers are pollinated by carrion-visiting insects (usually flies or beetles) that are attracted to the strong, very disagreeable scent of the inflorescence.  Heat is actually produced by the spadix as well.  This heat aids in diffusing the unpleasant smell of the inflorescence.

Here’s the cool part – People will stand in long lines in order to photograph this plant and to take a whiff of this inflorescence.  When these plants finally bloom after 7 to 10 years, usually at a Botanical Garden, or university greenhouse, the press is alerted and the Titan Arum plant becomes a ‘stinky’ star.  We are about one to two years away from having our very own Titan Arum bloom in all of its stinky glory.

In 2011, we received several Titan Arum corms (bulb-like, solid vertical underground stem) from New York Botanical Garden.  We gave a few to the Missouri Botanical Garden, but we kept one for the Tucker greenhouse.  It is now at least 7 to 8 years old.  It has quadrupled in size and weighs over 20 lbs.  Every year since 2011, I have dutifully transplanted this growing corm to a larger pot.  The leaves on the plant die back like those of most bulbs/corms, then the corm goes into a rest period underground.  It stores up energy to send up a new set of leaves for the next year.  When this plant is old enough, instead of sending up leaves, it will send up its very beautiful, yet stinky inflorescence.

The photo below is the corm after I lifted it out of its old pot on July 5th, 2017  It measured 30 cm or 12 inches.

Titan Arum corm ready to be transplanted.

The photo below is from the late summer, early fall of 2016.  It is ‘Stinker’ and her new leaves just emerging from a long rest.

Titan Arum ‘Stinker’ emerging in late summer

The photo below is late fall 2016.  Stinker is clearly growing very large leaves.

This plant continued to grow and get taller as winter progressed.  At one point, in Feb or early March, its leaves started to slowly senesce, or die back.  If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought that the plant was dying.  It was instead  just going through its natural life cycle.  This plant loves 70-85 F temperatures, and lots of humidity surrounding its leaves.

It’s important to stop watering the plant when the leaves begin to die back so as not to cause the corm to rot. Once the leaves are completely brown and dry, the dead leaves can be removed and the corm should be allowed to rest for several months.

Just today, I lifted the large corm out of its small pot and gently placed it in a newer, much larger pot.  Hopefully, this is the very pot from which Stinker will finally bloom.

The current home of ‘Stinker’ is pictured below.  Now we wait.

For fun, watch this video

 

 

 

Chocolate harvest has begun!

yellow pod

Theobroma cacao seed pod or capsule (AAA battery for scale) harvested from the Tucker greenhouse Cacao tree on June 9th, 2017

Seeds inside of the pod encased in whitish pulp

I just placed the seeds in water and plan to let them soak for a week or more.  Next step is to cure the seeds in a dry hot place, then roast them, then grind them to make pure cocoa powder…..stay tuned!

Another nest of baby Cardinals has fledged!

Baby cardinal

Today I had to put a note of caution on the greenhouse door, warning people about the baby Cardinal birds roaming around on the greenhouse floor.  Each year a Cardinal pair raises a clutch of anywhere from 1-4  babies in the greenhouse.  They often come back to the same nest each year too.  Just today, the babies awkwardly flew out of their nest, and they’re simply driving their poor parents crazy.  The parents are noticeably anxious.  The babies can sort of fly up about a foot into the air, but then they land very awkwardly.  Their wing feathers are still growing, and their color is dark gray so they’re had to see.  They chirp constantly though, so you may not see them right away, but you can really hear them.  The parents can fly in and out of the greenhouse through the open vents, and because of this they have been bringing the babies food all day from the outside

Glandular canadensis is in full bloom in the Tucker greenhouse rock garden!

purple flower

Glandular canadensis, Verbenaceae family

This fragrant plant can grow in very dry soil in full sun, making it a great rock garden plant.  Its common name is rose verbena and you can find it blooming right now along road sides, rocky bluffs, prairies, glades and sunny hillsides all over Missouri.  Its sprawling low-growing habit lends itself to being used as a ground cover in rock gardens.  It does spread and will take over an area (not quite like mint though).  The flower color is simly stunning.  From rose to purple shades.

Check out the Tucker greenhouse rock garden located on the north side of the Tucker greenhouse.

Trialeurodes vaporariorum, better known as ‘those nasty whiteflies’

 

Ficus leaves damaged by whiteflies

The Tucker Greenhouse has its share of ‘critters’, but right now there is a ‘bloom’ of these nasty whitefly insects, AND they are slowly defoliating a large Ficus tree in one of the tropical greenhouses. They seem to like certain plants better than others too.  They love feeding on members of the Araceae, and Moraceae plant families in particular.

For a great description of whiteflies and the havoc they can wreak on plants, see the following from Planet Natural, a research center for organic gardeners…

 “Common on houseplants and in greenhouses, the whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum) is a sap-sucking insect that is often found in thick crowds on the undersides of leaves. When infested plants are disturbed, great clouds of the winged adults fly into the air. Both nymphs and adults damage plants by sucking the juices from new growth causing stunted growth, leaf yellowing and reduced yields. Plants become weak and susceptible to disease. Like aphids, whiteflies secrete honeydew, so leaves maybe sticky or covered with a black sooty mold. They are also responsible for transmitting several plant viruses. 
Adults (1/16 inch long) are moth-like insects with powdery white wings and short antenna. They are easily recognized and often found near the tops of plants or on stem ends. Wingless nymphs are flattened, oval and almost scale-like in appearance. After the first instar, or crawler stage, they settle down and attach themselves to the underside of leaves and begin feeding.
Young nymphs overwinter on the leaves of host plants. In late spring adult females deposit 200-400 eggs in circular clusters on the undersides of upper leaves. The eggs hatch in 5-10 days and first instar nymphs, which resemble small mealybugs and are called crawlers, move a short distance from the egg before flattening themselves against the leaf to feed. The remaining nymphal stages (2nd, 3rd and 4th) do not move. A non-feeding pupal stage follows and within a week, young adults emerge to repeat the cycle. There are many generations per year. Whiteflies develop from egg to adult in approximately 25 days at room temperature. Adults may live for one to two months.”
Since the Tucker Greenhouse is filled with a diverse group of plants, and since people of all age groups walk through it on a daily basis, I try and limit the use of harmful pesticides.  I do use insecticidal soap, and an occasional systemic insecticide applied to soil, but largely, I depend on beneficial insects to help me combat the vast array of plant feeding insects that visit the greenhouse regularly.  I use lady bugs, mealybug destroyers, and whitefly parasitic wasps.
Today I received a package in the mail of 3,000 Encarsia formosa pupae.  Encarsia is a whitefly parasitic wasp that feeds on whiteflies.
The package of 3,000 pupae was shipped on ice to keep the insects cool during shipment.  So, since these tiny, delicate wasp pupae are one these cards, I’ll be placing them on the branches of plants throughout the tropical room.  Stay tuned for the results!

Curry Leaf, or Curry Tree

white flower

Murraya koenigii, commonly called Curry Leaf, is found in the Rutaceae (Citrus) family.

The Curry Tree or Curry Leaf plant is very fragrant.  The flowers are fragrant, the leaves are fragrant, the whole plant is simply fragrant!  This tropical plant is native to the moist forests of south Asia. The fresh leaves of the plant are used as a flavoring in Indian/Asian cuisine.

For more information on the use of the Curry Leaf plant please check out http://kurma.net/essays/e8.html

The Tucker Greenhouse Curry Leaf plant is located in the main hallway at the entrance to the greenhouse. When you find it, feel free to gently pull off a small leaf and crush it in your hands, or simply smell the flowers. The aroma is tantalizing.  If these flowers produce seeds, I’ll be planting them a.s.a.p.

The genus name Murraya, pays honor to Johann Andreas Murray, a Swedish professor of medicine and botany in the 1700’s.