Test tube plants

I first ran across test tube plants on eBay, which is a great source for them. Many nurseries who only sell in bulk to businesses and small shops and universities interested in conservation are using them to clone plants from tissue culture. Another common use is to start difficult seeds.

The plants are grown in agar ( a clear gelatin like substance ) with a bit of sugar and sometimes plant hormones. The supplies are easily found online.

I tried a couple of difficult seeds with out much success. Getting the seeds sterile without killing them is a bit of an art form. I’ll try some easier seeds next time.

This is a great way to buy expensive plants.

It’s a bit tricky deflasking them. All of the agar must be removed from the very tiny, fragile plants or it will mold and rot the seedling. I use toothpicks and a dish of water with about 15% bleach added. Soaking the seedlings helps.

Plants started this way do not have the coating necessary to retain water. They must first be placed in terrariums, under lights and steady room temperature. Slowly acclimate them to sunlight, temperature differences, and life outside the terrarium.

I’d start with a cheap flask of plants, it may take a few tries to get the hang of transferring them to a regular garden environment.

I plan to try starting more seeds in flasks, I’ll post the process and results.

More information:
Tissue Culture or Micropropagation
Atlanta Botanical Tissue Culture Lab
Virginia Tech, An Amateur in Vitro: Tissue Culture at Home

Pink Shell Prunus aka Ornamental Cherry

I had forgotten about this tree, it was so buried in deep shade in a very dry section of the garden. It has survived droughts, floods, frosts, and bright, hot Houston afternoon sun before the oak shaded it out. Despite this it’s about 12′ tall and about 6′ across. I think I picked it up at an Arbor Day Give a Way as a 12″ tall twig.

Last year I cleared out a lot of the overhead branches and it must’ve received enough sun to bloom, or the cold tripped it? Many fruit trees, even ornamentals, need several nights below freezing to flower and fruit. Be sure to check the number of ‘chill days’ needed on any fruit tree you buy. Only a few get enough nights below freezing in Houston to fruit.

Mine’s not an impressive bloomer, perhaps now that it has bloomed it’ll improve each year? I have seen many of these putting on impressive shows around town. I’m hoping with the added sun this one will too next spring.

Blooming occurs late Feb. early March

I highly recommend it. I’ll try taking a few cuttings in the fall and see how easy it is to propagate. I’d love to have a few more of these around.

Heliamphora ( Sun Pitchers )

These grow on the mountains in Venezuela where they receive lots of sun, humidity, water and cool temperatures, which drop significantly at night. All of which makes them a challenging plant to grow. I’ve slaughtered many.

First discovered in 1839 by explorers there are many species. The mountains are flat topped and widely separated leading to many similar, but different plants.

These are carnivores, but use a bacteria in the pitcher fluid to break down the insects instead of producing their own enzymes. There was and is an ongoing debate as to how carnivorous they are.

Outside through the Houston fall-winter-spring they do very well. It’s too warm in the summer for Heliamphoras to be outside. I have two growing quite well in terrariums, one on a windowsill that gets lots of morning light, one in a niche that has a light directly over the terrarium.

Humidity seems to override all other things when growing Sun Pitchers. Bright light is next and like all carnivorous plants distilled water is best. I’ve not found a daily temperature change to be important for growing, it might be for flowering? Every time I’ve removed it from the terrarium it’s begun to die back, starting by browning at the top edge of the pitchers.

Antarctic fungi found to be effective against citrus canker

Citrus canker is a disease that affects all citrus species and varieties. It is caused by Xanthomonas citri, a bacterium originally from Asia, where it is endemic in all citrus-producing countries. Although the bacterium can be combated in several ways, none is sufficient to eradicate the disease. Therefore, new chemical or biological methods of protecting citrus groves have to be pursued.

In an article published in Letters in Applied Microbiology, a team led by Daiane Cristina Sass, Lara Durães Sette and Henrique Ferreira, professors in São Paulo State University’s Bioscience Institute (IB-UNESP) in Rio Claro, Brazil, identify 29 fungi with proven action against X. citri. The origin of the fungi is surprising. They were isolated from samples of soil and marine sediment collected in Antarctica. read more…

Terrestrial and marine Antarctic fungi extracts active against Xanthomonas citri subsp. citri
Biotechnological potential of secondary metabolites from Antarctica fungi with activity against plant pathogenic bacteria

An orchid matches its scent rhythm to the locals

Interesting, white flowers are white to attract pollinators at night, several orchids I’ve owned have a scent that is very strong after dark but barely there during the day.

We find that the floral scent of the orchid Gymnadenia conopsea differs between day and night, and the increase in scent from day to night is stronger in populations with nocturnal pollination. This is the first study to report genetic variation in floral scent emission rhythms within the same species, and this is an important first step to understand the evolution of floral scent.

read more…

Diel pattern of floral scent emission matches the relative importance of diurnal and nocturnal pollinators in populations of Gymnadenia conopsea

Echinacea purpurea aka Purple Coneflower

Perennial, loves sun, doesn’t mind occasional dry spells, benefits from dead heading and dividing clumps every 3 years or so.

Native to North America, there are about 9 species in this genus. It’s been a garden favorite as far back as the early 1900s where it is often referred to as the ‘dull pink coneflower’

It is a strongly recommended addition to bee and butterfly gardens and said to be deer resistant

Yes, some plants do use camouflage


…. But a review by scientists from the University of Exeter and the Kunming Institute of Botany (Chinese Academy of Sciences) found plants use a host of techniques long known to be used by animals.

These include blending with the background, “disruptive colouration” (using high-contrast markings to break up the perceived shape of an object) and “masquerade” (looking like an unimportant object predators might ignore, such as a stone).

“It is clear that plants do more than entice pollinators and photosynthesise with their colours—they hide in plain sight from enemies too,” said Professor Martin Stevens, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“From ‘decoration’, where they accumulate things like dust or sand on their surface, to disruptive coloration, they use many of the same methods as animals to camouflage themselves.

“We now need to discover just how important a role camouflage has in the ecology and evolution of plants.”

read more….

Exeter Press Release