Sunday, 11 October 2020

The Beautiful Hoya

Hoya bella, the Beautiful Hoya

This beautiful plant is still the most cultivated Hoya, 174 years after it was first collected by a European. Since the naming of the genus Hoya more than a hundred Hoya species have been made available for the amateur grower, out of 520 species now known. Other species of Hoya may be more spectacular but this one is beautiful, delightfully fragrant, compact and relatively easy to grow. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Orbea variegata

This Orbea variegata flowered today and is a spectacular, peculiar and interesting flower. That does not stop it being an intense disappointment to me. I was sold it as a Huernia hystrixOrbea variegata is the commonest and easiest to grow of the group of plants to which they both belong. I could have bought it from many shops that sell ornamental houseplants. 

Huernia hystrix is far harder to find and is a much sought-after and endangered herbal medicine in South Africa. 

I only spent £5 on it and a part of the postage costs. The other plants that came with it were the correct species. So it goes.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Lemon Curio

My Curio just flowered. The flower is 12mm (½ inch) across and 22 mm (⅞ inch) tall. They don't flower very often but are widely-grown for their decorative succulent leaves and trailing habit.

The yellow pollen is produced first, by the purple anthers. A day later the stigmas, the white ramshorn-shaped structures with pink tips, burst out of the column of anthers and become ready to receive pollen. If you right-click the photo and select "open image in new tab" (or the equivalent in your application) the photo should be detailed enough to see that.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020


The first flower on my Frerea indica (or Boucerosia frerei) was badly placed for taking a photo. This was the best I could get. The flower is 2.5cm (an inch) across.

I am writing a long article on the plant so, hopefully, by the time that is finished there will be better photos from flowers that aren't on the underside of a horizontal stem with other stems in the way.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Mayflowers and some flowers, in May, Part 1

Hawthorn or Mayflower

Yesterday, I went for my first recreational stroll since being locked down. I took one hour and a little under 20 minutes. Hopefully I will not be prosecuted for this infraction. In my mitigation, this was my only journey that was not shopping or going to work for the last six weeks. I put the photos of horse chestnut flowers in a post yesterday. Some of the others I am including here and the rest in another post that I will hopefully complete in a few days.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Horse chestnut flowers

I went for a short walk today on a mission to get photos of horse chestnut flowers. I thought they would complement the article that I composed last September which touched on the history, seeds, uses, disease and chemistry of the plant. I managed to get a few nice flower photos.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Bloody Bean Trees - Part 3: The Americas

I have been distracted by a large project that I put aside in 2014 and am working on that for the next few months. Hopefully I will return to the Dragon's Blood series, tidy these three up and complete the ones about the famous Dragon's Blood trees.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Bloody Bean Trees - Part 2: Africa

I have been distracted by a large project that I put aside in 2014 and am working on that for the next few months. Hopefully I will return to the Dragon's Blood series, tidy these three up and complete the ones about the famous Dragon's Blood trees.

Baphia nitida seedpod or legume.
Ogooué-Maritime Province, Gabon
© David J Harris African Plants, A Photo Guide
Free use for non-commercial scientific or educational purposes.

Bloody Bean Trees - Part 1: Asia

Adenanthera pavonina pods, open and showing the glossy scarlet seeds.
Photo: © G P Lewis from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Creative Commons Attribution CC BY?

I have been distracted by a large project that I put aside in 2014 and am working on that for the next few months. Hopefully, I will return to the Dragon's Blood series, tidy these three up and complete the ones about the famous Dragon's Blood trees.

This is the next article in my series on dragon's blood and other bloodwoods. The first article was a hotchpotch of the more obscure varieties from various unusual plant families. Because there was less information it was easier to finish than the last ones will be. There will be three articles on the bloody bean trees, on those from Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Future articles will cover the dragon's blood from Croton, Daemonorops and Dracaena. The article on Croton is going to be a list of the various plants with a few details on each, not exhaustive monographs on each plant. The articles on Daemonorops and Dracaena will be more in-depth, as there is a lot of information on those rattans and trees.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Art Nouveau

I decided a few weeks ago that I should make a little decoration for a book that I am compiling on the ethnobotany of the asclepiads. The book will just be a listing of all known human uses for the Asclepiadoideae that I can find before I get bored of it. It will only exist in the virtual realm and be available for free, it will not get printed.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Belataky - Stephanotis

Stephanotis floribunda flowering in habitat in southeastern Madagascar.
Photo: © Nivo Rakotonirina from Tropicos
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The Madagascar Jasmine is to retain its most well-known botanical name, but has changed its author. Stephanotis floribunda Jacques is the new combination accepted by Kew on their World Checklist of Selected Plant Families though it is not yet changed on their Plants of the World Online.

The decision not to change the name to Marsdenia floribunda (C.Morren) Schltr. has come from the latest genetic studies. These studies have shown that Marsdenia and Stephanotis are distinct enough to deserve separate names. Both of these genera are in the tribe Marsdenieae of the Apocynaceae. There has been much discussion among botanists over the last two centuries regarding the exact divisions between the various genera of the Marsdenieae.

The change in author has occurred because I emailed Rafaël Govaerts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to point out that there was a publication earlier than the one that previously had been accepted as the earliest publication of the name with a proper description. The new combination has not yet been accepted by the International Plant Names Index, but they take their time over decisions.

It might be a little thing for professional botanists who change plant names every day - but it has rather tickled me that I have left a tiny, insignificant alteration in the history of botany. So I decided to write an in-depth history of Stephanotis floribunda. I could not find any article online that did more than give growing tips and mention a few obvious facts about the plant.

There will not be many gardening tips in this piece. I would recommend following the growing advice from the Royal Horticultural Society if you are caring for a Stephanotis. I would also recommend that you don't buy a Stephanotis in mid-winter unless you can guarantee it won't get chilled on the way home or in the post. As I have learnt from my own experience this year.

This is one of my longer articles, this sentence bringing it to over 17,000 words. Chapter headings, linked for your convenience;
Malagasy Common Names
including Latakana ombelahy (first French encounter 1650ish)
Another French encounter (1770)
Third French encounter (1817)
Introduction to Europe
First Pictures
Neumann and Greenhouses
Louisa Lawrence
Edmund Butcher
Rapid popularity in Victorian Britain
Stephanotis floribunda Elvaston variety
Stephanotis floribunda "Polyanthum"?
Stephanotis floribunda "Variegata"
Other Colours
Flower structure
21st Century
Stephanotic acid
English Common Names
Origin of the botanical name
Alternative botanical names
References for names

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Mid-Autumn Flowers

Borage flowers photographed on 19/10/2019.

It looks like I have been using my Fuji FinePix F770EXR camera for over 6 years, I just discovered. I don't think that can be correct. I think I did not set the calendar on the camera for the first year that I had it, so the year 2013 was the default date. I think I bought it in early 2016. 

Anyway, I decided to upgrade to something that can see a bit more detail. After trawling through reviews I found one that got a good press and was only slightly more than I was really willing to pay.

All these photos are from my new Sony Cybershot RX100. They have made some excellent Spider-man films, so I was sure their cameras would also be good. The fact that it has a Carl Zeiss lens was quite persuasive, too. I got the camera from Argos along with the necessary memory card and a carrying case. So far I have only used the automatic setting, except for trying the "Macro", which did not work as well. It seems far more forgiving of being hand-held. I did not need to brace myself against something solid to get clear pictures quickly.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Soapy Water

Walking down Demesne Road by Alex(andra) Park in Moss Side I noticed that several of the puddles were remarkably frothy. It has been very rainy in Manchester lately (as usual). My first thought was that someone had been washing their car by the roadside. I quickly realised that the frothiness came from conkers that had been crushed by passing cars. Later cars then ran through the puddles and whipped up the suds. All of the pictures are from yesterday.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Red Admiral

Yesterday afternoon I noticed a Red Admiral butterfly on the flowers of my kusagi tree. Known to entomologists as Vanessa atalanta, they are related to the painted ladies, emperors, monarchs, tortoiseshells and fritillaries. More details about one of our most striking butterflies can be found on the UK Butterflies website.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Catalpa and some pretty relatives.

Manchester Council plants a strange mixture of street trees with quite a variety of species. I would prefer that they planted native trees to provide more support to native ecosystems. However, if they are going to chose an exotic-looking, decorative street tree then why not a Catalpa bignonioides? The RHS consider the flowers to be a good source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators. Though that is only for a couple of weeks as the flowers do not last long.

The panicles of flowers are a little reminiscent of horse chestnut flowers. In Catalpa each flower is much larger and the whole panicle is not as neatly-shaped.

This example is on Albany Road in Chorlton. I took all these photos today in a light rain under a lead-grey sky. I had not noticed they were in flower soon enough to plan to take my camera out during the recent heatwave. At least I did not have to cope with the glare of the bright white flowers overwhelming the camera's optics.

Catalpa bignonioides flowers.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Irk Uncovered

I have been watching quite a few of the videos uploaded to Youtube by the excellent Mancunian amateur local historian and urban explorer Martin Zero. His video from 24/06/19 got me looking up some things on the Internet Archive. I have looked at both ends of the tunnel that now covers that part of the River Irk as it passes under Victoria Station before joining the River Irwell at the end of the tunnel. It never would have occured to me to get some waders and explore the river. I certainly would not have gone down there with only wellies to protect me from the very civilised water.

I found a map from 1428 of the cattle bridge over the Irk that he showed in the video, that can be seen in the thumbnail above. It has probably been rebuilt a few times since. I don't know how accurate the 1428 map is - it was published in 1884 in Old Halls in Lancashire and Cheshire. Including Notes on the Ancient Domestic Architecture of the Counties Palatine by Henry Taylor. The author writes that he compiled all the illustrations from reliable sources.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Obscure sources of Dragon's Blood and other bloody trees.

I am putting together some articles about plants that have provided substances called Dragon's Blood. I aim to write four separate articles on the main types - members of the bean family, Croton from the Euphorbia family, Daemonorops rattan palms and Dracaena dragon trees.

This article is a miscellany of the odds and ends of other trees I have encountered while looking for those main four groups. Some are called dragon's blood in their areas and some are just bloodwoods. These articles are going to be lists of the various plants with a few details on each, not exhaustive monographs on each plant. The article on Dracaena will be more in-depth, as there is a lot of information on those trees.

A surprising number of these trees grow in swampy or frequently-flooded areas. The pigments may have an antibacterial and antifungal effect, helping to preserve the wood from rotting in the damp conditions. There are, of course, many, many other trees with red wood but I have tried to restrict this to those that have been compared to blood.

The mineral pigment red ochre or ruddle has been used by humans for a very long time. The earliest reliably-dated finds in human sites are from about 200,000 years ago in both Africa and Europe. Red ochre seems to have been used for a wide variety of purposes from rock paintings to decorating skeletons. Scholars often resort to the "it was religious" argument when they have no evidence for context or other theories for a practice by ancient humans. Some of that use of red ochre may have been religious but it should be noted that modern hunter-gatherers use red ochre for decoration, tanning animal hides and as an insect-repellent. Australians were using red ochre at least 40,000 to 60,000 years ago. There were underground red ochre mines in Australia at least 32,000 years ago. Red ochre continued to be mined from several locations and was traded throughout the history of Australia.

Red ochre is a relatively dull pigment compared to the bright and deep reds seen in many plant dyes. We cannot be sure how long these plant pigments have been used by humans as even the most stable of them tend to break down over thousands of years. We can be sure that these plants caught the eye of ancient humans just as they were used all over the world in large quantities throughout recorded history. The many plants that bleed red blood like a human would have been especially fascinating.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Dragon genus names

I will be putting up a full article about the dragon-trees Dracaena or Draco (Asparagaceae) in a few months time. While researching that, I accidentally collected a list of plants whose generic names had a reference to dragons. I thought I might as well write them up for no real reason. I have ignored all those that are not currently accepted, and those with dragon-related species names and common names as they are as common as snapdragons. Nothing special to see here, just an aggregated list of stuff I looked up illustrated with other people's photos.

Dracocephalum (Lamiaceae) - dragon-head. 
The type specimen Dracocephalum moldavica was named by Linnaeus in 1753. An Asian annual of the mint family. It has large flowers fancied to resemble dragon's heads. It, and other members of the genus, have been called dragon's head. The first time this English name appeared in print was also in 1753 in Chamber's Cyclopaedia.

Dracocephalum moldavica, Gorynych variety. 
Photograph: © Bff, from Wikicommons.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Mongoose-leaf and Cliff Sausages

Plectranthus ernstii

One of the easiest houseplants I have grown. Covered in masses of flowers from May until December.  Leaves mildly aromatic, something like ginger and zonal pelargonium. I keep the plant dry from December to March. I feed with a liquid feed from March to August. I use a well-drained mix of two parts coir compost and one part perlite. It is important to avoid over-watering and waterlogged compost. I keep it on a west-facing windowsill.