Thursday, December 28, 2006

Y'know what THEY say...

NOW is the time to think about disbudding for the upcoming spring show!!! Check your calendars and count the weeks, January 1st is quickly upon us!

Longtime growers will have their favorite schedule in mind when they're disbudding their show plants but for those of us that haven't found the best system for our own plants here's some timely advice that just might be a little different from what "THEY" usually say in the books!

First of all, they say that it's a good idea to switch to a high phosphorous fertilizer to induce bloom. This might work for the flowering, but it WILL make the plant show a change in it's horticulture months after the show. For those large standards that may take years to achieve their spectacular form and size you don't want to have whole rows of leaves looking different from the others.

They say that keeping to the typical schedule of disbudding will work for all your plants universally but keep in mind that most schedules are meant as helpful guidelines. With extra large standards you may very well find that you need to disbud almost two weeks before the recommended time because of the way that the great big ones grow. Variegated ones may differ from the average times suggested also.

They might have told you that if you have a blossom stem that's showing most of the flowers open a month (4 weeks) before the show you might as well leave it on the plant. Typically, a flower stalk that's this far along will have fading or spent blooms for the show. Take off these older bloom stems and with luck you'll get a new one that's young and fresh!

They say that if your plant is coming into bloom before a show too slow or too fast that you can move the plant to a warmer location to speed the blooming up or to a cooler location to slow it down. They are pretty savvy about this tip but something a bit more radical might work too. Putting the plant in a dark location for a few days will slow down the flowering and putting it under continuous light for a few days will speed things along. Overall, plants need their dark time to process the products of photosynthesis made during the daytime but for a brief period this trick seems to speed up the bloom cycle.

They say that you should grow duplicates of a single variety because, like people, some will grow a little faster and some a little slower. This is good advice if you are a grower with a lot of space but for those a little pressed for room there are more factors to consider. Things like placement on the shelf can produce differences in flowering. How good a job you did at disbudding might be a factor. You were probably quite thorough disbudding the first few violets, but after the 47th plant you weren't so particular and these plants will obviously tend to show their flowers sooner.

They say that resetting the timers for more hours of light a day will help speed up the blooming and they are correct but there's more to consider with this statement. If your plant is vigorously growing and quite root-bound, not to mention disbudded, it seems that the number of hours isn't as critical as you might expect. The healthy, robust, root-bound plant will come into flower no matter what you do. So adjusting the light timers may not be making as big a difference as you want. Growers will find it useful to experiment with the lighting in their own growing location but remember to try a few of these other ideas like differing the placement on the shelves, slightly changing the temperature in the growing environment or keeping the plants more or less root-bound.

Well, you know what they say.... You better give credit where credit is due! Thanks to S. Johnson for providing all the useful insights for this post! Comments and questions are welcomed and appreciated, let us know what you think. The picture shows one of the lovely commercial tables at the 2006 National Convention.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Sex and the Gesneriad

Ok, ok... I confess to using cheap advertising tricks to get avid readers. But this morning when I was thinking of what to make a post about I looked back at the last two entries. They're dealing with hybridizing and the resultant changes that can be induced in a plant because of the different methods of dealing with seed production. My Google searches today seemed to only want to talk about vegetative propagation (propagation by using leaves or pieces of plants) and not sexual reproduction (the seed production.) When I wanted to find out what the typical characteristics of a "gesneriad" are and what makes that unique from other families of plants (especially regarding their seed production and formation) I found a surprising lack of information.

I did a little digging and found that in a very nice book published thirty years ago called "Miracle Houseplants" by Virginie and George Elbert, I could find out what characterizes a gesneriad flower and what relates these plants that may not necessarily strike us as related. Why, for instance, is the African violet that we all grow said to be related to a strep or a sinningia? Well, it all has to do with the way the flower is constructed!

With help from the Miracle House Plant book, here's a summation of the features that distinguish a gesneriad from all other types of plants. The flowers have petals that are joined at the base so that they're reduced to being the lobes of a tube - think streptocarpus flowers. This tube (although sometimes short like in the African violet) usually has five lobes. The flower has two smaller superior (top) lobes and three larger inferior (bottom) lobes. The calyx is five parted and lies between the flowering stalk and the corolla (or petals) of the flower.

The ovary is superior and one celled and it contains a large number of ovules which develop into lots of small seeds. There are two to four stamens (the pollen or male part) which are usually fused in pairs or joined. The flowers can be typically borne in pairs on a peduncle (flower stalk with multiple buds) or on a pedicel (a flower stalk with a single bud) from the axils or nodes of the leaves.

The gesneriad leaf is simple. It isn't made of multiple leaflets nor is it deeply notched. Usually the leaf is oval or spatulate. There are lots of different forms of gesneriads though, including terrestrial and epiphytic (hanging in trees) herbs, as well as more woody shrubs and small trees.

The small seeds are many and usually in a seed pod that is not compartmentalized. The plants have a variety of root forms including the fibrous, (like African violets) tuberous, (like Sinningia) and rhizomatous (like Eucodonia). Certain gesneriads bear propagules in the axils of the leaves which are similar to undergrownd rhizomes. A few posts back there was a picture of a propagule.

And finally, in some of the gesneriads only one half of the cotyledon (both halves of a dicotyledonous seed) continue to grow after germination. This gives us the unifoliate streptocarpus and the like.

When the taxonomists are identifying a new plant they look at a number of characteristics. Sometimes a plant will display traits that might fit into more than one category. That's why a plant will sometimes be reclassified and have it's scientific name changed after being in a particular group for years. The characteristics that we have just discussed determine what we enter in our shows. It is the reason why we can't enter our great looking lily or rose in the "blossoms with white flower" class. Now we can go forth into the rain forest and impress our tour group with how many gesneriads we can identify from just their flowers??? Well....

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Pretty patterns

Here's a shot of some very handsome leaves! This photo, shared by S. J., comes from the national show in Tucson in 2004.

Variegation in African Violet plants comes from some interesting sources. Traditional breeding using the natural variation that exists among members of a wild population will produce offspring that show differences. Depending on the type of organism involved, these "differences" can be very slight or quite noticeable. All natural populations that use cell division to reproduce will occasionally have mutations occur.

According to Gerald Klingaman, it is estimated that one in approximately a million cell divisions will produce a mutation. This means that something has gone wrong with the division process and an identical copy of the parent 's genes has not been produced. Most of these mutations have no effect, some are detrimental, but once in a great while you'll get one that's beneficial. One person's beneficial might not be another person's idea of a good mutation but in the case of the African Violet these mutations will be valued if they produce changes in patterns and colors.

Besides traditional breeding, violets can be induced to "change" when their genetic numbers are doubled, tripled or quadrupled. This condition is called polyploidy. Variations can also be produced with interspecific breeding, or crossing species that are within the same genus. And, you can get a whole exciting range of possibilities with "mutation breeding".

Mutation breeding involves deliberately trying to change the genetic structure of an organism by exposing it to things like chemicals or radiation. In the 1920's x-rays were used to change plant material and people liked the interesting effects that were turning up. Then chemicals were shown to cause genetic changes and even today people are very cautious about what they're exposed to because chemicals can indeed cause genetic changes like cancer or birth defects. Then in 1945 nuclear radiation was found to make all sorts of genetic changes! Gamma rays were used - people could even send in their seedlings or seeds to the Oak Ridge Nuclear Reactor in Tennessee to have their plant material zapped. The changes that were produced were interesting but tended to be unstable.

All of these methods of changing the look of a plant have given the African Violet we see today tremendous possibilities for interesting flowers and foliage. What sorts of violets are you most fond of? Variegates, doubles, crinkled leaves? Let us know what you think would make a good looking plant if you could pick all the traits!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pretty colors

Here's a shot of a handsome 'Party Boy'! Did you know that streps are primarily found in Africa and Madagascar? It will be interesting to see where hybridizing takes the Streptocarpus in the near future because of all the variation in the species plants.

Some of the species streps are unifoliate, or have only one leaf. Some are very similar and tend to grow one to three leaves, but unlike the former, these will be perennials and continue to grow even after flowering and fruiting.

A third form of Streptocarpus is called rosulate. This is the one we might be most fimiliar with because many of the modern hybrids come from stock that includes S. rexii.

Although Streptocarpus don't "branch" as we tend to think of it, there is a fourth sort of strep that produces multiple leaves from a lengthened central base that is capable of producing "secondary" leaves that also are able to bloom. It's sort of intermediate between what we think of as a strep with no "stems" and a regular vegetative plant that develops a branching habit.

The subgenus of Streptocarpus, called Streptocarpella, display yet another form of growth from the one cotyledon which continues to grow, a characteristic feature of the entire genus. (One cotyledon grows while the other withers and dies shortly after germination although it is a fully dicotyledenous plant.) Streptocarpella leaves start as a vegetative bud on the root system and branches in the normal way. In other words, we have everything from rosette plants with no obvious stems to regular branching herb-type plants with more normal leaves. This leaves a great deal of interesting possibilities for hybridization.

Does anyone want to try some strep hybridizing? What would you use for parent plants? What traits would you like to see expressed in future flowers??? Let us know.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Holiday stress!

Think that you're having some holiday stress??? Look at this Eucodonia 'Adele'. Notice at the center of the picture there is a green structure right at the base of the spent blossom stalks that looks like a rhizome. It's the little green pine cone shaped thing. That's a propagule.

The Biology site tells us that a propagule is a structure with the capacity to give rise to a new plant, for example a seed, a spore, or a part of the vegetative body capable of independent growth if detached from the parent.

If that little pine cone shaped structure was taken off of the stem of the plant and put into some potting mix it would grow just like a rhizome and produce another plant. It's not exactly like a seed, it would produce an identical copy of the parent plant. And, it's not exactly like a rhizome because they are produced underground. These propagules are usually made by the plant when times are tough and the plant feels environmental stresses. Sometimes they might just show up on a plant that otherwise doesn't outwardly seem to be in difficulty, but in this poor Eucodonia's case it thinks that the holidays might be better if they were to bring the gift of repotting and reliable moisture.

What plants have you ever seen this happen on? Have you tried planting the propagule? Has anyone else enjoyed the Eucodonias? I happen to think that they're a very easy and interesting plant to grow. Pretty forgiving of inconsistent horticultural practices too! As always, send a photo in so that we can talk about it!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sphagnum moss

Are you sometimes just "hanging around" thinking about sphagnum moss? Our friend here is deciding whether it's good to go forward and learn about how useful long fiber sphagnum can be (coming from wetlands something a little like this) or whether it's a better idea to just go and find some lunch back in the house.

Long fiber sphagnum moss is really quite an interesting product. It can hold up to 20 times it's weight in water. This means that one pound of dry moss could hold up to two gallons of water. That's why many people that enjoy preparing their own hanging baskets always use the long fiber moss in the containers. It isn't just because the moss makes an attractive outer covering that gives a pleasing natural look, it's also because even the amount used as the decorative covering holds a good deal of water which is readily available for the plants.

Many people like the New Zealand sphagnum which is Sphagnum christatum. It's primarily grown on the Western coast of New Zealand and is a renewable resource that's able to regenerate itself in two to four years after it's harvested. There are actually many species of sphagnum. It was feared that harvesting it would ruin the wetlands where it grows and destroy delicate and very important ecosystems. Depending on the particular species and location, it can indeed be grown as a crop that replenishes itself if the farmer is careful. Did you know that they also harvest sphagnum a little closer to home in Wisconsin?

This sphagnum is different from sphagnum peat moss. Sphagnum peat is a product that has long been dead. Thousands of years ago sphagnum plants thrived in marshland similar to where it still grows currently but after it died and was covered by more layers of living moss the old moss decomposed and compressed into the peat moss that we typically use in our potting mixes today. To collect most of the peat moss that we use it has to be dug up out of the ground. Long fiber sphagnum is not "mined" but cut off at ground level by people who typically use hand tools for the job.

Besides the benefit of water retention, sphagnum has a natural antibiotic agent in it called Tropolene. It kills viruses, bacteria and other micro organisms. This is a wonderful attribute for those wishing to start new cuttings or seeds. It helps keep the plants free from disease and pests. If you chop up the long fiber moss or "mill" it into a powdery form it is a useful soil covering after seeding especially on tiny seeds. Many of the gesneriads have particularly small seeds.

What do you use as a seed starter? Is there a particular brand of sphagnum that you prefer? Would the water holding properties be suitable in your potting mix or is it better used for orchids? Let us know what you think.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wind Chills

As I was just waking up to the radio this morning I heard that there was an -18 below zero F. wind chill this morning. We were supposed to bundle up for work and keep the kids warm at the bus stops too. I was thinking back to when the weather was a little more favorable and I thought maybe a pretty picture of one of the winning violets from the National Show that was held here in Bloomington, Mn would be a good way to bring a little "sunshine" into an otherwise chilly winter day.

I don't know which entry this was, but if anyone would like to let me know I would be happy to give this grower some well deserved credit for such a lovely entry.

The questions for the day are: What are your show plants looking like today, right now? Are they disbudded? Are you keeping them actively growing and fertilizing heavily to increase size, are they on a break? I would appreciate a photo or two of someone's prospective show plant for next spring show as it appears today. Send me an email and I'll put it up as soon as I get it. Think warm thoughts today!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Books, books and more books

This lovely design done by Barb W. started an interesting search for books. I'd happened upon a title called Floral Design Concepts with African Violets and Other Gesneriads by Ruth J. McCoy copyright 1985. I wondered if I could find this book that was probably out of print. After a lucky bit of looking, I found the usual sites available to purchase used books and I found a site by Nancy Robitaille that lists a lovely variety of African Violet related books, some of which I didn't know about. (Please click on the highlighted title of this post Books, books and more books to automatically get this link.)

Nancy's site asks viewers to select the books that they've read and give them a rating. There will be a Gesneriad book poll as well. You might enjoy this site if you are interested in books related to growing, showing and designing with AV's.

What design books have you thought useful or valuable for designing? Let us know. (Thanks to Sandy O. for the great photo.)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Frozen Flamingos

Brrrr. It's cold out there for those poor flamingos that forgot to migrate! Some of the more genteel ones have chosen quarters indoors to keep their feet warm and their favorite snacks (streps) growing. Today's Problems and Solutions query: What indoor home temperatures seem to work best for winter growing? Is warmer better? Or, is keeping things on the cool side preferred by your plants? Let us know what's working for you.

African violets are quite adaptable to ordinary home conditions but what is ordinary? Some homes have a much more stable temperature environment, some vary from warmer in the day to cooler overnight. Some folks grow them in the basement under lights which may always run towards being cooler. Is the temperature as much of a factor of vigorous growth as perhaps humidity, proper nutrition or factors like soil consistency? In other words, does the temperature really matter much?

(Thanks to the festive holidays flamingos that were willing to dress up in their best bows for the photo op.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Optimara Glossary

Here's a handy link to Optimara's web pages. Some of us were lucky enough to go to the presentation at the 2006 National African Violet Convention in Minnesota given by the Holtkamp Greenhouses of Nashville, Tennessee. We got to hear first hand about the production and history of the Optimara violet. For everyone else this web site will be an enjoyable and educational resource to use not only when considering the Optimara violets, but anytime you're looking for information about your plants.

This link jumps to the middle of their site and gives you the complete glossary of violet terms. I started at the beginning with the letter "A", of course, but scroll to the 10th entry for example: African Violet, and you'll find a whole host of information with just that one entry. Try some more of the letters and there's an entire college course worth of material right at your fingertips.

The rest of their site is interesting and very well done too. After you're done looking at the glossary drop down to the bottom one of their pages and hit "Optimara Home Page" for the rest of your tour!

Cat-astrophic Plant Pathogen?

Catchy title aside, let's look at this catagory of plant pests. Today's Problems and Solutions question: Is a capering cat a catalyst for plant room cataclysm? Or is this calm kitten only considering catching up on a much needed catnap?

What do you do to keep pets away from plant room shelves and show plants? Do your pets cause you any problems? How do you remove pet hair from the delicate leaves of your plants? -No catty comments now... (Many thanks to our most handsome volunteer, Hoover, whose photo was submitted by S.J.)

Does anyone have any interesting links to sites relating to violets and gesneriads that they would like to share? Send us an email with the link information and we'll post it for everyone to take a look at.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Wild Streps?

Well this strep "went wild" and decided to grow right out of its own pot! In this photo sent in by Sharon, we see a potentially tricky situation. For today's Problems and Solutions question: What is the best method for getting the "baby streps" off of the wick and separated from the parent plant? Should the grower leave the leaflets grow to a larger size or would that make more of a problem to separate the root systems? Has anyone else had experience with rooting taking place along the wicking system in a strep or other plant that was wick watered? Let us know what you think!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What's my problem???

To introduce our "Problems and Solutions" section of the blog, we'll start off with a violet that has a problem (or two!) What fun is it to look at a tiny speck on a single leaf of an otherwise perfect plant and fuss over something that you need a microscope to detect? Let's begin with a plant that has some obvious "issues"!!!

Here's how we play the game. I'll post a photo of some aspect of a plant or its growing conditions and you, the reader, will post your thoughts on the problem and possible solutions to it.

I'd love it if we could get some lively participation! Even the most senior grower will occasionally have a plant that just doesn't grow as expected, or gets an insect problem that's unfamiliar. With many thoughts, we might get many great ideas! There are no right and wrong answers to this game, just a chance for some of us to admit that there are plants like this one even IN our collections!

I welcome contributions to the "Problems and Solutions" picture file. Email the blog with your photo and indicate if you would like your name to be given so that you may get credit for sending in the picture. I'll post different photos as I get them. Maybe at some point we'll even have a contest for the worst problem! We'll all have a chance to vote on it and the winner will get to have their picture up on our Wall of Fame! I'll need lots of pictures before we get to that though. Enjoy.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The field trip to Bachman's growing range.

Our most recent event was held at the Bachman's growing range in Lakeville. We got to tour the nine acres of green houses that featured poinsettias.

Our tour guide, Jason, gave an excellent tour all about the commercial production of the plants, their blooming period, some of the pest problems associated with large-space growing and different watering practices.

The Bachman's range has automated and even more updated, automated watering systems that control the amount of water and fertilizer being delivered to the plants. Some of the crop is watered with an individual water nozzle placed at soil level in each pot which is connected to a main water line. Some of the plants are grown in trays which are sensor controlled to be flooded and then drained at specific times. Even the overhead hanging plants are on moving conveyor lines so that each plant receives exactly the right nutrients and water and is easier to move and process for sale. In the picture above the lines of plants are approximately 150 feet long. Each of the main houses that we were guided through contained nearly two acres under glass.

There were a number of different colors of poinsettias being grown for sale. Some with foliar variegation and some with smaller, double "flower heads" that are called Christmas Roses.

Some of the white poinsettias that you can see in this picture are used for a new "designer" look in holiday decor. The light colored ones are sprayed with a dye solution which dries quickly on the colored bracts (flowers) and then they have a light glue sprayed on them so that the sprinkling of glitter adheres to the plant. The effect is that you can have any colored poinsettia, from blue to burgundy to speckled with the glittering look of fallen snow on them. This rather interesting method of "enhancing" them certainly adds to the variety of product that you can get for your holiday decorating. Bachman's produces all of the poinsettias that their retail outlets sell for the season.

The North Star African Violet Council

Welcome to the NSAVC's new blog!

The North Star African Violet Council would like to welcome its club members and interested others to our new blog! We hope to use this format to share information on upcoming events and shows, answer questions about African Violets and gesneriads, and have articles and links to sites devoted to the growing, showing and hybridization of violets and related plants!

Our blog will have the features of our traditional news letter with all the advantages of being online. We invite appropriate comments and questions and have over twenty years of experience in growing, showing and hybridizing to share with violet and gesneriad enthusiasts of all sorts. Whether you've just purchased your first violet or you're an experienced grower, we welcome you to read our blog, attend club meetings and join with others in the Twin Cities area in enjoying this most excellent hobby.

Happy Growing!