acorns and oak leaves

November 24th, 2010

I have two oaks in my yard. At a glance they look identical to me. Both are beginning to turn a deep red.

The tree in the back yard has been dropping acorns like crazy this year. I don’t remember ever seeing so many acorns. Viewing each one as a potential sprout I’m going to have to pull up next spring, I’ve been raking them up and grinding them into meal with the chipper grinder.

The tree in the front yard hasn’t produced as many acorns. However, they’re almost twice as large. When they drop on our metal roof it sounds like someone’s throwing rocks at my house. They usually fall with their caps on. The leaves on this tree are larger, too.

Comparing them side by side, I now recognize each tree as an individual.


November 14th, 2010
Datura, a Mystery

Thanks to rains through July this year, a lot of self sown Datura inoxia (I think) sprouted. Most of these were seedlings from plants passed along from Diana at Sharing Nature’s Garden. One of the plants she gave me survived two winters in the ground. It didn’t even die back in the warm winter of 2008/9. However, it froze to the ground in the severe freeze of January 2010. I wasn’t too disappointed because it had sown plenty of seed. I knew there would be no shortage of plants this summer. I was very surprised, though, when it came back from its roots.

In October, I was watering when I noticed a lovely lemon scent. I followed my nose to this datura. None of the other datura flowers had a scent. I looked more carefully and noticed that the flowers on this one plant were larger and that the petals curved back at the lip.
2010-10-04. The lemon-scented flower.

The flowers on the other datura plants did not open as fully and the petals didn’t curl back as much.
2010-10-04. The unscented flower.

The leaves were different, too. The leaves of the scented datura were much wider at the base. The leaves of the unscented datura were more lanceolate.

As the seedpods formed, I could see more differences.

The seeds from the scented plant were fat, round globes. When they split to drop their seeds, the bottom fell out of the globe.

The pods from the unscented plant were more elongated, more egg-shaped. When they split to drop their seeds, the four sides curled back like a banana skin.

The seeds inside differed as well. The seeds from the unscented flowers (left) were smaller and slightly darker brown than the seeds from the lemon scented flowers (right).

I’m not that surprised to discover a lemon-scented datura in my garden. Ten years ago I bought seeds for Datura metel ‘Belle Blanche’ because it was described as having the scent of lemon chiffon pie.

Note: Wikipedia says that Datura metel has fruits that are “knobby, not spiny”. Both of these seedpods look pretty spiny to me. So I’m still not sure I can tell the difference between Datura inoxia and Datura metel. And I don’t know where Datura meteloides comes into it. But at least I can see the difference between these two datura in my garden. If my eyes fail me, the nose knows.

Update: March 1, 2011

The lemon-scented datura is sprouting back from its roots after freezing to the ground during Austin’s two hard freezes in February 2011.

Update: April 5, 2011

First flower.

bluebonnet seeds

September 28th, 2009
Bluebonnet Seeds

If you’ve ever bought bluebonnet seeds, you might have noticed that they looked like varied multi-colored pebbles. But if you collect your own seeds, you might notice that all the seeds from the same plant look alike.

When the bluebonnets are blooming in my yard, I go around marking plants from which I want to save seeds. I’m a bit of an extremist so I tend to mark plants with the deepest blue flowers and the palest blue flowers. Every once in awhile a pale pink bluebonnet or white bluebonnet will appear but these rarely set many seeds. I saved seeds from the child of my oversummering, December-blooming bluebonnet and notice how pale beige they are compared with the others.

bluebonnet seeds
I saved these seeds not because the plants were remarkable but because the seeds themselves were so pretty.

The week before we went on vacation seven of inches of rain fell and immediately the bluebonnets began sprouting. The week we were gone, we received an additional 3.5 inches. I returned to find my yard covered in bluebonnet sprouts of the seeds I didn’t save. I’m going to have to hustle to get my saved seeds in the ground somewhere.

Zanthan Gardens bluebonnet seeds
Brown hard seeds are ripe. Mushy green seeds are not ripe yet.

May 15th, 2007
Collecting Bluebonnet Seeds

Several people have asked me how to propagate bluebonnets…how to tell if the seeds are ready. It’s easy. Don’t cut back the bluebonnets or mow until the seed cases are brown and you can hear the seeds ratttling inside. If you tap the seed case and it pops open, you know they’re ready.

Zanthan Gardens bluebonnet seeds
To release their seeds, bluebonnets pop open with a little twist.

You can let the seeds reseed on their own (a bunch will anyway, as long as you don’t mow). With this method, some will be lost to birds, fire ants, and hot weather. Or you can collect the seeds, store them in a cool dry place, and sow them where you want them in August before the fall rains. If we have a rainy early summer, some bluebonnets will sprout now but, unless you baby them through the long, hot summer, they probably won’t survive until fall.

Bluebonnets naturally sprout in the fall, grow all winter, and flower the following spring.

You’ll find all sorts of advice for nicking the hard seed coats or rubbing them with sandpaper. This might be necessary with old dry seeds that you buy. I never do it because my own seed is fresh. Sometimes I soak them overnight or until they plump up. I did this the first couple of years to get started but now I have more sprouts than I can deal with an so I don’t need to go to any extra trouble. I let them sprout and transplant them where I want them.

Bluebonnets have hard coats so that they don’t sprout all at once if it rains. In Texas, it might rain and some sprout, and then die off in a long dry spell. But since they don’t all sprout at the same time, some are kept in reserve until more favorable conditions present themselves.

photo: Rhodophiala Seeds
The stem on the left shows a seed pod. The stem on the right the more usual withered sterile flowers.

photo: Rhodophiala Seeds

September 26th, 2003
Rhodophiala bifida Seeds

Dateline 2003

Curious and curiouser. Last year one clump of my oxblood lilies set seed. I have managed to keep alive four little seedlings. Because I’ve obtained my bulbs from various sources over the years, I wondered if a different kind of Rhodophiala got mixed in with the normally sterile oxblood lilies. However, this year many clumps set seed. From a single bulb, usually only one stem would set, sometimes only one flower.

The Pacific Bulb Society has one of the best resources on Rhodophiala. They say that the Rhodophiala bifida of Central Texas is known for its abiity to reproduce rapidly by offsetting and it does not set seed. Other Rhodophiala bifida strains set seed, but don’t offset.

Well, whatever is in my garden does both. The bulbs that formed seeds are also forming offsets. But I do seem to have two different types. One has an elongated rather gourd-shaped bulb. I thought the bulbs were misshapen because they were growing in poor conditions originally. But after a year in the seedling bed, they are the same shape and produced many offsets also the same shape. They also have thick fleshy roots and look somewhat like this photo of Rhodophiala granatiflora. However, on my plants the flowers and leaves look just like the other oxblood lilies and the stems are an inch or two shorter…but that might just be because of their age or location.

Dateline 2002

Oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) are very easy to propagate by offsets. They multiply quickly, especially when fed and watered. They are one of those marvelous plants which can thrive on complete neglect but do even better when fed, watered, and planted in good garden soil.

About a dozen of my oxblood lilies set seed this year. Every year, after the stalks flower, little seed heads form. But most simply wither away. This year, one group brought seeds to maturity. They look exactly like rainlily seeds and so I sowed them the same way. I soaked them overnight after gathering them and then sprouted them between sheets of paper towel. To my complete amazement, most of the seeds sprouted. I have now planted them in little flats.

Scott Ogden reports that in their native Peru pink and orange Rhodophiala are grown that can only be reproduced from seed. These strains are reputedly less hardy than the oxblood lilies naturalized in Austin. Mine which set seed look just the same as the others, but produced more flowers per bulb. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this is an improved form?

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photo: rainlily seeds

June 1st, 2003
Rainlily Seeds

They’re not supposed to set seeds.

A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed
James Fenton
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York. 2001

June 4th, 2002
A Garden From A Hundred Packets of Seed

Just as I’m beginning to take garden planning more seriously, just as I’m installing more hardscaping and thinking about garden bones, just as I go in search of a shrubbery, I pick up this little book which says, more or less, “Forget design. It’s about the flowers.”

This book is not so much about gardening as it is about the game of lists. If your garden was a blank slate, if you could plant anything you wanted to grow (but only if you grew it from seed), what would you plant?

I’m not sure I can even come up with a 100 plants to grow from seed at this point in my gardening career. I’m not very good at raising things from seed. But, I’ll have a go at making a list of my own. Why don’t you add a comment and tell me what you would grow.
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When the gardening bug bites, it’s usually too late in the season here in Austin, to plant anything that will survive the searing heat of the coming summer.

March 8th, 2002
Starting Seeds for Summer

The trouble with spring in Austin is that the gardening bug bites at a time when it is almost too late to plant anything. We have a growing season of about 90 days, counting from our last freeze date to the time the temperatures reach the high 90s.

I don’t grow a lot of summer annuals from seed because it takes too much water to keep them growing through the summer–my water ration is for the roses and the vegetable garden. I’ve switched to perennials (crape myrtle, esperanza, Rose of Sharon, vitex, ruellia) to provide summer color.

However, there are some annuals that I’ve found easy-to-grow from seed. I usually start them outside in a special bed and then transplant the seedlings where I want them.
* cosmos
* sunflowers (a great variety now available in all heights and colors)
* gomphrena (southern batchelors buttons)

Flowering annual vines provide a lot of color and are easy to grow because they usually have large seeds.
* dolichos lablab
* luffa
* morning glory
* black-eyed Susan vine
* cypress vine

I sometimes find it more economical to simply buy the 6-pack flowers from Home Depot.
* marigolds
* pentas
* coleus

Bulbs for summer that can be planted now.
* canna
* caladium
* asiatic lily
* zephyranthes (rain lily)
* crocosmia

February 22nd, 2002
With Compliments of the RHS

As a Christmas present my English father-in-law gave me a membership to the Royal Horticultural Society. Last December I received notice of a surprise benefit. I could choose 30 packets of seeds from the RHS gardens at Wisley. These are excess seeds that the RHS shares with its members. I quickly filled out my first choices and alternates, looking up many Latin names (the RHS always refers to plants by their Latin names), trying to stick with plants that were easy to grow from seed and that had a chance of surviving the shock of moving to Texas.

The seeds arrived today! Now to research how to grow them.
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