Succulent Macros

I haven’t really posted any little succulent pics in a while because many of them are dormant during the spring and summer and don’t look like much. After our recent rain storm they are springing back to life so it is time for an update.

All of them are plants that I started from seed except for the Fenestraria. Most of them are in two or three inch pots so that should give you an idea of their size.

Frithia pulchra

Frithia pulchra

Titanopsis primosii

Titanopsis primosii

Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. rhopalophylla

Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca

Stomatium alboroseum

Crassula barklyi

Crassula macowaniana

Cheiridopsis cigarettifera

Lithops optica ssp. rubra

Mitrophyllum dissitum

 Mitrophyllum dissitum

 Mitrophyllum grande

 Monilaria pisiformis (I am not convinced that any of my Monilaria are going to survive dormancy. There is a bit of green in some of them but they are not doing much)

Cheiridopsis glomerata

Gibbaeum comptonii

Oophytum oviforme

Muiria hortenseae

Muiria hortenseae

The last four – Cheiridopsis glomerata, Gibbaeum comptonii, Oophytum oviforme, and Muiria hortenseae were left in their original seedling containers way too long. For little mesembs (especially tricky ones like Muiria and Oophytum) it is a balancing act on potting the plants up into individual pots. Too soon and you may kill them. If you wait too long, however, they become overgrown and their roots are so entwined it is difficult to extricate them from each other without doing damage or even killing some. I had planned on potting them up in September, after returning from a trip back east, but while I was gone the drip irrigation on my nearby container plants had sprung a leak and water was shooting up like a geyser a few times a week.  It filled the tray they were in with water so they were soaking for a few days. Not ideal for any succulent!  I let them dry out for a bit and then proceeded with potting them up and happily most of them are looking pretty good. The Oophytum are still a bit dodgy but those are tricky plants to begin with. If they fail I’ll try again and be more careful next time.

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Mexican and South American Macros

Not all of the plants in my garden are from mediterranean climates. There are a lot of cool Salvias and Cupheas from Mexico and South America that grow really well on the California Coast.

Salvia semiatrata is from the mountains of southern Mexico in Oaxaca. The overall plant seems rather brittle and delicate to me. I don’t think I would plant it in a very windy place. The dark violet corollas are pretty small but the calyces and stems are bright magenta and really stand out. It looks pretty nice in front of Anemanthele lessoniana. Both are in my plant ghetto but I’ll have to keep in mine how nice they look together when I finally plant them (in my next garden).

Salva mexicana ‘Limelight’, from central Mexico, has been blooming since spring. It was starting to die back and look a bit sad so I cut much of it back but some of its lower branches started blooming again so I left that part alone for now. It is a favorite of my resident Anna’s hummingbird and he often perches on the highest branches and chirps at me while I am working in garden. I posted a picture of this plant on a Facebook group and someone suggested that a pineapple sage with red flowers and yellow foliage was a nicer plant. That person was crazy.

There is something almost sinister and furtive about Peruvian Salvia discolor. The corolla is such a dark shade of purple it reads as black and the light green calyx is covered in little white hairs. The perfect plant for a black and white garden.

The stems of Salvia discolor are so sticky that they become an insect graveyard. Little gnats and flies land on them and can’t escape. Defense mechanism for the plant or do they derive some sort of nutrients from all the little insect corpses? I read a study recently that suggests that the carrion attracts predatory insects that may help control other insect pests on the plants. Cool!

Salvia coahuilensis is from Coahuila in northern Mexico. Its flowers are similar in shape to those of S. greggii and S. microphylla but they are intense blue-violet in color. My photo doesn’t do it justice at all. You really have to see it in person to appreciate it.

The individual flowers of Brazilian Salvia confertiflora are tiny and bright red-orange but entire foot long inflorescence is a deep velvety red. The plants grow quickly and can grow over five feet tall and wide. It looks wonderful paired with deep blue Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ but mine is next to pink and white Nicotiana mutabilis. Perhaps not the best color combination but the hummingbirds are very happy with the arrangement.

The above picture is from my last post on wildlife in the garden so you can see this combo in all its glory. Sometimes things don’t quite work out how you plan but you learn to live with them.

Moving on from Salvias we have some Cupheas which are in the loosestrife family. The above plant is Cuphea ‘Strybing Sunset’. I’m not sure of the exact parentage of this Cuphea. I assume it is a hybrid and possibly has C. ignea as a parent which is from Mexico. The flowers are teeny tiny but the plant is covered top to bottom in hundreds of them and of course the hummingbirds love them. It sulks a bit in winter but seems to be in bloom all year.

Cuphea ‘Minnie Mouse’ from Annie’s is a much more robust plant. Perfect to light up a shady spot in the garden. Always in bloom so you take it for granted but the hummingbirds appreciate it.

Now speaking of macros as you can see I have mixed success on that front. Some of the above pics are pretty good. Some are so-so. Many more were rubbish and had to be deleted. My SLR camera is a Panasonic Lumix that I have had for almost 10 years. It takes pretty nice photos but to get the best flower shots I really feel like manual focus is the way to go and this camera is awful in that regard. The LCD display is rather small and hard to read in even the lowest light and for some reason when you use manual focus the view gets even smaller. A little box in the middle of the screen. It is difficult to be certain that your subject is in focus.

So eventually I will have to think about getting a new camera. Any suggestions? I’d like something with changeable lenses too so I can switch from wide-angle, zoom, and macro.

Wildlife in the Garden

You don’t have to do too much to attract wildlife to your garden. Basically if you build it they will come. Certain plant families are have a lot to offer different types of wildlife though. Salvias and any Asteraceae are sure things to attract a wide range of little beasties. Hummingbirds and bees love Salvia nectar and finches enjoy the seeds. Butterflies and bees love plants in the Aster family and once again finches and other birds love the seeds.

Of course bird feeders are helpful too. Bird feeders and seed are pretty expensive though. A nyjer/thistle feeder is probably the most affordable route to go as the seed generally lasts a long time and usually only small finches are attracted to it and can fit on the feeders. Shelled sunflower seeds are an excellent way to attract birds too. I prefer getting the shelled or hulled seeds because the shells make a huge mess in the garden that can prohibit plant growth. Again this makes it more expensive so now I use a cheaper “no mess” mix. I prefer the ones that include things like millet rather than large seeds and nuts.

This male lesser goldfinch is enjoying my Salvia confertiflora. Large flocks come to the feeders but they enjoy my Salvias, Verbena, and Tithonia too.

Female lesser goldfinch hanging out on Verbena bonariensis (could be an American goldfinch. But I think most of my goldfinches are the lesser variety. Hard to tell when they don’t have their breeding plumage).

And another goldfinch rooting around in a Verbena bonariensis looking for seeds. Or perhaps they like the nectar too. I’m not really sure.

I was about to head outside into the garden when I got a bit of a shock. Hawks usually pick a higher vantage point like the top of a tree or telephone pole to survey my yard but this young Cooper’s hawk sat himself down on my fence right near my feeder.

Maybe he was hoping that if he stood perfectly still some yummy little finch would land right next to him. Alas a crow soon did see him waiting here and chased him off. The number one way I notice hawks in my yard is I hear crows and other birds complaining about them. Smaller birds mob large predatory birds when they get too close to their nests. It is a pretty funny thing to watch.

This male Anna’s hummingbird owns my yard. He sits on this Yucca (the tallest thing in my yard) watching for rivals to chase away from his plants. In the next yard another hummingbird watches from a Myoporum and across the street one sits on a tall Cedar. They all sit singing their little hummingbird songs as if daring each other to overstep their bounds.

I finally have monarch caterpillars on my Asclepias curassavica (and some little bright orange Asclepias aphids if you look closely). I purposely planted this food source to entice monarchs into laying their eggs in my yard but I think it was the Tithonia rotundifolia that really lured them in.

Monarch caterpillars go through 5 different molts (called instars) before they form a chrysalis. I think the little one on the left is a 2nd or 3rd instar and the big guy is a 4th or 5th instar. I’ll be keeping an eye on them the next few weeks.

I was thrilled that a big flock of bushtits was hanging out in my garden this afternoon (warning – do not Google bushtit with safe search off). They are the sweetest little birds. I was even happier when I managed to get this picture of one of them on a Fuchsia stem next to some Cuphea ‘Minnie Mouse’. They don’t stay still for very long.

A juvenile white crowned sparrow hanging out on some dried up Tithonia rotundifolia. The Tithonia looks pretty ugly when it starts to die but it is important to leave annuals in the garden as long as you can. The longer you can put up with it looking like crap the more birds you will attract and the more seedlings you will have next season.

In my next garden I’m definitely going to try to grow my fruit bearing shrubs and trees to attract a broader range of birds. A water source, particularly moving water is great for attracting birds too so I will probably get some sort of bubbling fountain. But considering how little life there was in my yard before I started this garden and now it is home to dozens of birds I think I am off to a good start.