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Nature’s jewels

March 10, 2009
By JOYCE COMMINGORE, Garden Club of Cape Coral

About a month ago, I did an arrangement for the Strolling Flower Show. My window was in a jewelry store and I needed to fit my title to the overall green theme and display store. My idea was to use plant material that echoed the names of jewels. I thought about what I had in my yard to use in the design. Nature's jewels. Nature's jewels will also make a very nice gift for any garden minded individual.

I have already done an article about "Diamond Frost" euphorbia, "Stars Are In My Eyes." It is a small white twinkly bracted plant that is a cousin to the poinsettia. So next, I recommend my jewel of Opar-a variegated version of Talinum paniculatum, "Variegatum," in the portulacaceae family. This is a succulent with delightful sprays of tiny, airy, hot pink blossoms, like babies breath. These flower spikes rise 18 inches to two feet above its leaves in the summer time. Hardy in zones 7 to 10, it needs light, aerated soil and to be kept barely moist. It can be drought resistant for some time, but not salt tolerant.

Feed every two weeks with a water soluble fertilizer diluted by half, don't fertilize in the winter; or you can use slow release granules in the springtime. Propagate it by seeds or cuttings. The seeds on the flower stalk sparkle in the sun, leading to its name. It is a reseeding annual or tender perennial, and does well in rock gardens, reseeding abundantly. The variegated plant is not as invasive as the green Talinum. After the "jewel" seeds are done sparkling, they turn grey and dangle from their spikes.

Remove seed stalks if you don't want it to reseed. The leaves are medium sized succulents. The flowers are tiny, but can be massed together in arrangements or bouquets. They give a great textured presentation, especially the variegated one. The more you cut the more they bloom.

Next-I love my hanging basket of "string of pearls," Senecio rowleyanus. They look like succulent peas strung together, with a growing potential of hanging several feet in length. Even though they resemble peas, they are very poisonous. Mainly used indoors, it can be placed outside in a protected area of filtered sunlight. Do not over-water, keep the soil on the dry side as these pearls store water in anticipation of drought. Like most succulents, they use very little moisture in the winter.

Some of the beads have transparent stripes to allow light to penetrate the beads interior and increase photosynthesis without increasing water loss. Paint brush looking white flowers appear periodically. To start fresh plants, take a stem segment, allow it to dry a few days, then plant it in well-drained soil and water sparingly. Does very well indoors, if you give it plenty of air circulation and filtered light. Greenery to enjoy!

Jade is one of my favorite colors and jewel. I also like the plant, so named. Jade is another succulent type plant, Crassula argentea. It can become a shrub or short tree. I found this out visiting my brother in California. They had thrown a piece of the plant over their back fence and it rooted. It had grown to about four feet tall with its round, dark green, succulent leaves shining through the filtered light. I have a whole new respect for this shrub/diminutive tree. With a thick trunk, it is tolerant of deep shade, but this causes it to stretch and reach for light. With filtered to high light, it becomes compact in shape and develops a reddish tint around the edges of its leaves. When put into direct sun abruptly, these leaves have dried, brown spots in reaction. It must be adapted slowly to light. Water very lightly, and if a piece gets knocked off, let it dry and put it directly into the soil to root. There is a tricolor jade that is very colorful, a real beauty.

But my favorite jewel plant is the jewel ground orchid, Ludisia discolor, found growing naturally on the forest floor. This is not a succulent, like the other plants. I have seen this ground orchid potted up in a clay saucer with African violet soil growing medium. It has fleshy rhizomes, like a begonia, which needs to be kept moist, but not wet. They need high humidity and warm temperatures. Unlike regular orchids with gorgeous blooms and stark tough leaves, these ground orchids are grown for their beautiful burgundy velvet leaves delicately decorated with bronze stripes. Their growth pattern forms clusters of leaves in a rosette. They set up to bloom a lovely spike of small non-descript white flowers/tiny orchids around December to February, lasting a month or more. Bright filtered, indirect light works best. No full sun. Such a charming display!

If you like shrubs, there is the necklace pod, Sophora tomentosa, also known as the silver-bush. It's small leaflets are covered with silvery, velvet. On the tips of the branches, the showy, yellow blossoms cascade up, blooming from their base up, throughout the year. After flowering ceases, seed pods appear that eventually turn brown. These brown seed pods can hang on for a year or more.

The pods are compressed between each seed, making it look like a stung necklace. They rattle when the wind blows, and are dangerous to eat. Listed as a native plant, it is in the Leguminosae family. This beautiful, dense, multi-trunked, 6 to 10 feet tall shrub, hardy in zone 10 and 11, grows in full sun, any type soil, and is very drought tolerant. It is well known for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, and as an outstanding shrub.

These are all Jewels, and nature's jewels make great "green" gifts. So-give nature's jewels to make a very green gift.

Joyce Comingore - Master Gardener; President of the James E Hendry Chapter of the American Hibiscus Society, and National Board member; member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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