Sunday, August 29, 2010

Durian Season

Durio zibethinus , or durians if you may, are in the market again. 100 days ago, the tree would have looked like this ....yep, it takes that long from flowering to harvest.

The flowers open only for 1 day and do not self pollinated easily ; animal agents, mostly large bats called flying foxes or the smaller cave bats Eonycteris spelaea are summoned for the cross pollination task. In fact, cave bats are known to fly 100km from the coasts to the durian territories far inland just for this purpose. Rate of this occuring naturally are already low but with the decline of the flying foxes its even lower now.

Here are a couple of interesting info about durian as a crop and its relationship with bats.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Henckelia malayana

This is a fairly commmon relative of African violets and appears to be confined to hills and highlands in Peninsula Malaysia. Like so many local members of this family, it is not well known nor commonly grown although it does has merits - its felty leaves for example, and its yellow flowers which is relatively unusual amongsts local gesneriads.

The genus Henckelia was revived by prominent Asian Gesneriad researchers Anton Weber and B. L. Burt in 1998 to include the bulk of the species formerly grouped under Didymocarpus. One would usually encounter members of this large genus, comprising of about 200 species, during a casual walk in a primary lowland forest around the Malesian region. According to Weber and Burt, Didymocarpus now comprises mostly temperate or highland species which may be periodically dormant - not a common trait for lowland tropical gesneriads here.

The trick for growing this plant successfully is cool climate and high humidity, which is not easy to duplicate at home unless you have a bright bathroom with air-con. I collected some seed pods for trial in the lowland and although germination rate is pretty ok, survival has been dismal.

This population is found growing about 50 metres from a mountain stream under very little shade.

Here's another example from the genus Henckelia

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Unknown Amorphophallus - a second look

I have looked at some photos and found that this tiny Thai species is certainly not A. obscurus as initially thought. The small bloom stand at about 8cm tall. As for its ID, I am clueless - any help is appreciated !

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lotus pond in Dresden

The Dresden Botanical Garden prides itself in having a large lotus pond within the greenhouse. The star attraction is the Victoria amazonica, the giant water lily from Amazon, which is right in the niddle of the pic. If you click to enlarge the picture, you can also see the yellow bloom of Nymphaea mexicana at the bottom left.

I think this is Nymphaea caerulea although I could not find the tag for this calmingly subtle bloom.
Nymphoides ezzannoi - a small African member of lotus family.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Artful Aristolochia

Looking up the glass ceiling of the greenhouse at Teplice Botanical Garden, I was surprised by the sight of Aristolochia gigantea flowers dangling everywhere - each bloom is larger than a human head.

These flowers look and smell like rotten meat, but they are really much smarter. On the first day of opening (anthesis), the flower is in female phase during which flies, fooled by the sight and smell, enter a chamber via a constricting entrance lined by inward pointing hairs. This is where the reproductive structure(gynostemium) sits.

And there, they are trapped, but not too long - just 1 day, which gives them sufficient time to deposit pollen collected previously from another flower onto the stigma.

The next day, the flower change sex into a male and the fly is dusted with a new pollen coat once more. Soon, the hairs lining the entrance became flaccid and the fly can leave at will to visit another female flower - and repeat the ordeal.
At Dresden Botanical Garden, I saw a less well-known member of the family - Pararistolochia promissa, much smaller in size but no less intriguing nor pungent. This is a predominantly tropical African genus (with only 1 Asian species so far) that differs from the usual Aristolochias by having fleshy, colourful fruits rather than dry brown capsules. Most likely, it rely on fruit eaters for dispersal. And like its bigger cousin, it uses the same trick to get some. This plant is still restraining its unwilling runner in its smelly jail cell.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Refreshing my succulents encounter

I do not have many succulents in my photo portfolio although I did start growing the miniature ones before everything else. The humid tropical climate here is not condusive for their growth and they tend to end up looking unnatural and dead. On top of that, to see them in their habitat would require me to break my piggy bank....and probably some other people's as well.

So while in Europe, I visited some succulent greenhouses in the botanical gardens to see how they would look if properly grown. I was immediately envious how nice and colourful even the more common Gasterias and Haworthias look over here - as I could barely recognise those same species being offerd for sale back home. There are many Aloes that are new to me, especially minatures like this A. descoingsii which I am itching to try....

....also very desirable is this relative of the pepper, Peperomia columella from Peruvian Andes - but its need need for a cool and dry environment probably means that it would not find Singapore very homely....

....and for the first time, I saw this man-size Cyphostemma juttae, a succulent from grape family which is relatively common amongst caudiciform collectors in the west but would be unlikely to do well in SE Asia.

....this is a xerophytic Madagascan version of the national flower of Malaysia, and as the label says, its called Hibiscus grandidieri.

....then, my heart missed a beat when I saw the Welwitschia mirabilis fruiting.

This plant grows in the dryest place on earth, bears just 2 creeping leaves throughout its life and has been known to live for more than a thousand years in the wild. I have seen it in documentaries and books but never in real life before....(click on pic to enlarge)

....and I learn too if you see moss covered rocks in the desert (especially in NW Argentina), you better look carefully before resting your butt on them .....

for these spiky moss wannabes from Bromeliad family, Abrometiella brevifolia to be precise, can be quite injurious to your behind.

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