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It’s time for the days to grow shorter

June 24, 2011
By JOYCE COMINGORE, Garden Club of Cape Coral


Special to The Breeze

Tuesday was the beginning of summer, our longest day of the year. Summer solstice hit at 1:16 p.m. in our Northern Hemisphere, when the Earth's axis reaches the point where it is leaning at 23 degrees toward the sun, and is the closest to the sun. The Earth doesn't orbit upright, but at an angle. Sunlight hits us most directly now. Our days now start getting shorter and the sun a bit weaker.

Stonehenge, the Mayan pyramid Chichen Itza and the Egyptian pyramids gazed at from the Sphinx all are monuments created by early ancestors to take advantage of the solstice's and the equinox's sun. We have winter and summer solstices, spring and fall equinoxes.

Plants need to know when to flower and fruit before their life cycle diminishes. This process is often caused by photoperiodism, a reaction to the length of day or night, and governed by hours of darkness, not daylight. Photoperiodic plants are long-day plants, or short-day plants, and then we have the regular day-neutral plants. Long-day plants, when a plant requires less hours of darkness in each 24 hours to start flowering, are now peaking, and they are getting ready to set blooms to fruit. This system is reversed in the Southern Hemisphere.

We are now entering the short-day plants season where nights grow longer. Natural nighttime light of moonlight or lightning are not sufficiently bright enough or of any duration long enough to disturb their setting up for flowering. They begin to flower after June 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, as the days grow shorter. Some short-day plants are chrysanthemums, coffee, our seasonal favorite poinsettias, my favorite Roselle for the Florida cranberry, strawberry, gardenias, Maryland mammoth tobacco, common duckweed, cocklebur, tropical maize, hemp, cotton, rice and sugar cane.

Long-day plants usually bloom during early spring and summer, as days get longer, up until June 21. Some long-day plants are carnations, rose-of-sharon, henbane, oats, ryegrass, clover, bellflower, peas, barley, lettuce, wheat and turnips. Rye seed is a good seed to produce grass in the winter time, as it dies back come summer and the longer days (shorter nights).

Not all plants worry about the length of night time hours, they are day-neutral plants like cucumbers, tomatoes and roses. They initiate their responses to environmental stimuli, like cold weather turning warm, or just plain development of age, being old enough to develop blooms.

This is part of the success of growers of holiday plants, knowing how to manipulate artificial lightening or lack of lighting to stimulate early blooming plants for holiday gifts.

Night blooming plants are pollinated by bats, beetles and moths. The idea believed here is that night pollinators and night bloomers have co-evolved, a symbiotic relationship. Daytime blooms depend on bees, butterflies and birds for pollination.

Jim Reif, our local weatherman, states that we have already hit 90 degree temperatures, and that 75- 80 of the next 90 days we will have temperatures in the 90s. Well, summer is definitely here. School is out and I am watching my great-grandson. When his daddy, my oldest grandson, was living with me and learning to ride his two-wheel bike, I had a big saucer bowl with three Madagascar palms of varied heights in it, sitting to the left of the garage door. A very attractive specimen display. My grandson would take off from the garage door and ride back to it twice he lit in the pot of the Madagascar palms.

Pachypodium lameri is a native of southern Madagascar. With a columnar silver-gray trunk, long spiky thorns and long narrow leaves at the top, it resembles a palm, but it is not. In the Apocynaceae family, Pachyodium joins the carissa boxwood, nerium oleander, plumeria rubra, adenium obeseium or desert rose and the Madagascar periwinkle. I was once attracted to a headline that read, "It's not a palm, it's a periwinkle." All are poisonous. They ooze a poisonous sap. Some references call it Euphorbia succulent. It needs full sun and warm temperatures, surviving in zones 9 and above. Indoors and in pots, they don't attain their maximum height, but in the ground they can be 15 feet tall. It branches when injured or very old. You can cut off the top, causing it to branch. Dry the cut stem, and root it when it has hardened off. Don't water it in. Later, water sparingly and fertilize lightly. Never water in the winter when they lose their leaves, they are dormant and can't utilize it, causing it to rot. With all those spiky thorns, the suggested repotting every three years is a chore. Wrap several folded layers of newspaper around the plant like a strap and lift it to the new waiting pot.

Taking 6 years to begin flowering, the plant bears large white fragrant flowers that look a lot like frangipani (plumeria) blossoms. It rarely flowers when it is an indoor plant. Flowering through the warm months, they produce long seed pods that resemble connected double bananas, just like the frangipani. Many white-winged seeds are produced, that yield in 3 to 4 days after planting.

But back to my grandson and his run-in with my plants: twice it took pliers to pull out the long thorns imbedded in his thigh and fanny. A few days after the last episode, I found my plants axed to shreds. Couldn't blame the little guy. Haven't owned a Pachypodium since. The moral is - don't take a Pachypodium to heart or embrace one. Instead, just thank a tree for oxygen and eliminating carbon dioxide.

Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, director on the national board of directors for the American Hibiscus Society, a board member of the Fort Myers/Lee County Garden Council and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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