Attention, fellow seed savers: as the weather warms up, it’s time to pull out all those amazing seeds you’ve been saving and start growing transplants indoors.
My “aha!” moment at the Garden’s annual Seed Swap happened when I stopped by at horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg’s seed-starting table, and picked up a copy of her Seed Viability Chart. It’s not only a useful tool about the average “shelf life”—or viability—of veggie seeds, but also an eye-opening reminder to check the dates on seed packs before I start growing this spring. Some seeds last longer than others!
Ready to start sowing? We’ve got lots of good tips and info about how to start seeds on our blog and website:
Thousands of visitors to the Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden have been delighted to see a special guest star at the Tropical Greenhouse: Alice the Amorphophallus is on display, in full and glorious fruit!
Visitors are asking: why are some of the berries on the titan arum (or corpse flower) skinny and small, while others are big and plump?
Dr. Pat Herendeen and “Titan Tim” Pollak plucked a few of each in mid-February, X-rayed them, and performed a bit of berry surgery to get the answer.
X-rays showed that seeds had developed in the larger berries—those pollinated with pollen from Stinky, the titan arum that recently bloomed at the Denver Botanic Gardens. There were no signs of seeds in the smaller berries, which were pollinated by Spike, the Garden’s first titan arum. Dissection confirmed it; the large berries are ripening, while the smaller berries are sterile.
Spike and Stinky contributed all the pollen used for Alice’s pollination last September. About one-third of Alice’s female flowers received Spike’s pollen; about two-thirds received Stinky’s—and you can see the difference visually.
Garden scientists believe that Spike and Alice, who are siblings, are too closely related genetically to create healthy seeds, while Stinky, thought to be more distantly related, provided appropriate genetic material for proper reproduction.
Each of the berries produced by Stinky’s pollen will make one or two seeds. It will take several more months for the fruits to ripen and turn deep red—a signal that seeds may finally be collected.
What’s Next for Alice’s Seeds?
Because the titan arum’s natural habitat in Indonesia has degraded so drastically—estimates say 72 percent has been lost—scientific and academic institutions like the Chicago Botanic Garden have become safe havens in which titan arums can grow and multiply.
After Alice’s fully-ripened fruits are collected, the seeds will be extracted, cleaned, stored, and shared. Alice’s seeds will contribute to titan conservation through:
Seed sharing between gardens, universities, and other institutions.
Raising new plants here at the Garden to bolster our titan collection.
Researching DNA to increase diversity among titan plants.
Relive the excitement of Alice’s bloom! Our blogs and videos track Alice’s progress from bud to fruit.
The first time you walk under a big, lush tangle of orchid roots at the Orchid Show can be quite disconcerting—what are those big white things dangling in the air, you wonder, and how do they work?
Let’s look at those roots from a different angle, so that the next time you walk under them, you’ll know more about what you’re seeing.
They’re Called Aerial Roots
Of the 27,000-plus species of orchids on the planet, about 70 percent are epiphytes—plants that grow on trees, with above-ground rather than in-ground roots. Known as aerial roots, they act as anchors and supports as they wrap around branches and trunks, stabilizing the plant as it grows. Roots are an orchid’s lifeline, absorbing water and nutrients from the air and from the leaf litter in the tree niche it inhabits.
Orchid Roots Are Adventitious
That is, an orchid’s roots can grow along the stem of the plant, not just out of the bottom of it. The advantage of being adventitious? Plants can be propagated easily. Many orchids grow baby plantlets, called keikis, that can be removed from the mother plant along with their own set of adventitious roots.
The White Stuff Is Velamen
An aerial root should look fleshy and green; the white coating that covers it is called the velamen. Thin and rather papery, but spongy and protective, it’s a one-way water barrier that allows moisture to soak in—and keeps it from oozing out.
If the velamen appears dried or rotted, it should be stripped off up to where it’s healthy and white, leaving the wiry inner root to help stabilize the plant once it’s in the pot.
Roots Signal Plant Health
At the Orchid Show, you get to see lush, healthy roots close up. At home, your orchid’s roots will usually be contained in its pot. Roots growing out of and over the edge of a pot signal that it’s time for re-potting—which gives you the opportunity to examine your plant for overall root health. Plump, green roots look and are healthy; yellow, spotted, black, or dried out roots indicate that it’s time to re-think how you’re caring for your orchid.
Roots Can Rot
Overwatering is the number one threat to an orchid plant. Orchid roots rot easily if given too much water—with no switch to prevent roots from pulling in excess water, the plant can drown if left standing in a full saucer. That’s one reason why orchid pots typically have extra drainage holes.
To correctly water an orchid, remove the pot from its saucer to the sink. Run water gently but thoroughly through the plant for a minute or two. Then allow the plant to drain completely before returning it to its saucer; repeat weekly.
Orchid roots are awesome! Come see for yourself at the Orchid Show, running through March 13, 2016.
On this Valentine’s Day weekend—which also marks the opening of the Orchid Show!—we share two tales of love, both about the same ravishingly beautiful flower, commonly called the Lady’s Slipper Orchid.
The first story has its roots in the ancient Greek myths. Flower legend says that the goddess Aphrodite (Venus to the Romans) was out hunting with the handsome mortal Adonis, when a powerful storm forced them to seek shelter together in a cave. Love ensued. Post-storm, the lovers ran off—Venus, minus one slipper. A mortal human came across the shoe and reached down to pick it up, when suddenly and magically it transformed into a flower with a slipper-shaped petal of gold.
The Lady’s Slipper orchid’s beautiful binomial (two-part) Latin name, Cypripedium calceolus, was given it by none other than Linnaeus himself (Carl von Linné), who listed it in Species Plantarum in 1753. The great botanist packed a lot of meaning into that name: Cyprus was the sacred island of Venus’s birth, pedilon is the word for slipper, and calceolus means little shoe.
The Lady’s Slipper orchid is native to a broad swatch of the temperate world, from Europe through Asia. While still common in some wild areas, the orchid’s beauty has made it over-loved in others—it is now considered extinct in Greece, the very home of its ancient legend.
And that brings us to our second love story.
The flower fervor that swept through Britain in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries not only raised demand for the exotic plants of the world but also took a toll on the native plants of the English countryside. Loss of habitat and over-collection by humans diminished the native Lady’s Slipper Orchid’s numbers until, in the early 1980s, just one plant remained in the wild in the entire country.
Placed under last-resort protection, it was nurtured along until it gained strength and eventually bloomed. Its seeds were collected and sent to Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where a conservation program was put into place. Eventually, the difficult-to-germinate seeds germinated. Seedlings, which take 5 to 10 years to flower, have since been re-introduced into the wild in an attempt to re-populate the species there.
This modern-day love story has devotion and commitment and conservation at its heart.
While there won’t be any Cypripedium calceolus plants in bloom at the Orchid Show (they’re terrestrial orchids that don’t bloom until spring), lots of other slipper orchids in the Paphiopedilum and Phragmipedium genera will capture your imagination and attention.
You can give a gardening book to almost everyone on your list. They will especially love books about food and how to grow it! Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg adds to her recent Top 10 Gardening Gift Books blog with a follow-up list—plus more titles to find at our Garden Shop (on-site and online).
Order through our Amazon Smile link and 0.5 percent of the profits go to support the Chicago Botanic Garden! Or bookmark smile.amazon.com/ch/36-2225482