Sunday, January 29, 2012

Plant Care Profile: Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

I first encountered the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in a garden center in Germany when I was maybe eight or nine and I remember being very excited about it. The only Asclepias species I had hitherto encountered was the tropical  Asclepias curassavica, which is commonly grown as a container plant in Germany. Enamored of exotic plants, little me was ecstatic to find another member of the genus that was just as showy as its tender cousin and supposedly fully winter hardy. I bought a small specimen and have been growing Asclepias tuberosa ever since, first in my family's garden in Germany and then in our two subsequent gardens in Michigan. In each place, it has proven not only hardy but virtually carefree.

Asclepias tuberosa last summer in my family's current Michigan garden, Zone 6a

Origin: The butterfly weed is native the eastern half of the United States as well as the southwestern states including California and the eastern provinces of Canada. In many parts of its range the plant can often been seen flowering on highway embankments, where the bright orange or sometimes yellow flowers stand out even from afar and at great speed.
USDA Hardiness Zone: Asclepias tuberosa is listed as hardy to Zone 4a.

A yellow-flowered cultivar in the current Michigan garden

Size: Most plants I have ever encountered, as well as all that I have grown, have been about 1' (ca.30 cm) tall and equally wide. However, the species is supposedly quite variable and some specimens reportedly attain heights of up to 3' (ca. 90cm).
Flowering Time: Depending somewhat on the local climate, Asclepias tuberosa will typically begin to flower in mid-summer. The main set of flowers will normally open over the course of three or four weeks but the occasional inflorescence will often continue to form throughout the rest of the summer and early fall.
Light Requirements: Adapted to sunny and dry meadows and grasslands, butterfly weed needs full sun, the more the better.

A typical specimen as seen from above

Soil Requirements: This plant will adapt to most soils, provided they are not excessively wet.
Siting in the Garden: Asclepias tuberosa should be planted in a sunny, well-drained spot with sufficient space so as not to be crowded or shaded by taller or faster-growing plants. Since the crown of the plant's tuberous root system sits close to the surface and the young shoots in spring are quite brittle it is important to site the plant away from any spot where cultivation or other disturbances might lead to damage.
Care: Plants can be planted throughout spring and summer; some organic fertilizer, such as bone or blood meal, or a generous dose of compost can be worked into the soil to give the plant a head start, though it is not necessarily needed. Plants should be kept well-watered until established and also benefit from a mulch of dead leaves, wood chips, or some other such material. Once settled in, the plants require practically no care, except preventive measures against encroachment from more vigorous neighboring plants and watering in case of extreme drought.

Yellow-flowered cultivar at the front of a mixed perennial border

Propagation: Large plants can be carefully divided and seeds can be collected in late summer and fall when the pods become dry and start to break open. Since in nature the seeds are distributed by the wind and are are equipped with silky fibers to keep them airborne, one has to either be quick once the pods open or encase them in little bags to catch the seeds before they fully open. Generally it is easiest to direct-sow the seeds in the garden; alternatively, they may require stratification.
Use in the Garden: Asclepias tuberosa cultivars come in a number of shades ranging from deep, glowing orange to bright yellow and make a great addition to the front or middle level of perennial beds and borders. They are also great for more naturalistic and informal designs, such as a planting of grasses and wildflowers that imitates their natural meadow habitat. The flowers also are very attractive to butterflies and like other species of Asclepias the plant can serve as a food source for the caterpillars of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), so this is a great plant to make a garden more butterfly-friendly.

Friday, January 27, 2012

New USDA Hardiness Zone Map

The United States Department of Agriculture unveiled a new hardiness zone map for the United States this week in which most zones have expanded northward to some degree and two new zones have been added at the warmer end of the spectrum. One can also pull maps by state and search by zip code. The map can be found at the USDA website here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

Winter Travels - Part 3: Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

While the large, hilly tract of Kuala Lumpur parkland known as Lake Gardens or Taman Tasik Perdana encompasses an array of different attractions, such as the Kuala Lumpur Bird, the National Monument, and the Hibiscus Garden, it also includes a main park that constitutes the Lake Gardens proper. Situated in a small valley and with the lake that gave the place its name at the center, this park contains a number of different plant collections, theme gardens, and facilities. These include a small Balinese garden, a sunken parterre, a Heliconia Garden, bamboo and cycad collections, an open-air theater, and a large playground for children.

View of the small Balinese-style garden

A glimpse of the parterre in the Sunken Garden as seen from under the pergola that runs around its edge

One of the bridges leading onto the island in the lake

The tiny Balinese-style garden, though somewhat overgrown, was one of my favorite parts of the whole park. I really like the seclusion and intricate, elegant effect achieved with just a few design elements such as the stone gate and the small water feature covered in water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes). Apart from this small space, I found the most interesting landscaping and plant material in the sections of the park immediately adjacent to the lake, including the small island which is home to the bamboo and cycad collections.

Landscaping featuring various palms and croton (Codiaeum variegatum)

View along the canal around the island, with a veritable forest of topiary trees along the left bank

View from the bridge towards the cycad collection

Flower of the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) - lovely but a horribly invasive weed throughout much of the tropics; these were growing in small, blocked-off bays at the edge of the lake, presumably so they cannot spread

View across a part of the lake; the shrubs flowering in white and light pink on the opposite bank are Mussaenda cultivars

Also at the edge of the lake is a plaza of sorts where colorful orchids take center stage alongside some interesting trees. Most of the orchids used represent hybrids of Vanda and similar genera but there were also some others.

Part of the orchid display at the edge of the plaza - I love how the colors pop against the green background even from afar

One of the island beds filled with orchids

A close-up of some of the orchids from the Vanda alliance

Another cultivar of Vanda or closely related parentage

I am not even sure what genus this terrestrial orchid belongs to but I really like the two-tone flowers
UPDATE: Thanks to ChrisU from 1003 Gardens I now know that this is a cultivar of Philippine Ground Orchid (Spathoglottis)

Unfortunately my camera ran out of battery power while I was in this part of the gardens so I was not able to take pictures of some other features, such as the Heliconia collection and a small spice garden, which I visited later on but on the whole those were quite lovely as well. The whole park definitely makes for a lush and tranquil place to stroll and while away an hour two but there is also plenty of color and much of botanical interest.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Decorations welcoming the Year of the Dragon at Pavilion Mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter Travels - Part 2: The Hibiscus Garden, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Located right next to the Orchid Garden within Kuala Lumpur's Lake Gardens, the Hibiscus Garden or Taman Bunga Raya is dedicated to Malaysia's national flower Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, known in Malay as Bunga Raya. There are many specimens representing different varieties of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis throughout the garden, as well as a rather odd fountain in the shape of giant red Hibiscus flowers. However, for some reason at the time of my visit few of the garden's namesake plants were actually flowering much. The place was lovely anyway, however, because it makes use of a plethora of other flowering plants besides the Bunga Raya as well as some interesting design features.

A double-flowered orange cultivar of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis

If coming from the adjacent Orchid Garden, one enters Hibiscus Garden through a curved downward path lined with red-flowered Hibiscus rosa-sinensis standards. This leads one to a plaza of sorts at the foot of a small hillock, which is also the location of the aforementioned strange fountain. Broad steps lead up the hillock to a level space planted with beds of Hibiscus. A courtyard of sorts, it is enclosed on three sides by a small house, an open, creeper-clad pavilion, and a long, curving pergola connecting the two. 

The ascent up the hill

The interior of the pavilion with its bubbling fountains

Allamanda violacea, one of the many flowering vines in the garden

View towards the pavilion from under the pergola

Anthuriums and Bromeliads being cutivated under the pergola

Another even longer pergola curves around the foot of the hill. Unlike the other one, which is draped mainly in pale blue and white Thunbergia grandiflora, this arbor is graced with the vivid yellow and orange inflorescences of Bauhinia kockiana. It leads to the other, somewhat steeper side of the hill, where a number of fountains as well as a collection of Bougainvilleas are set amongst lush tropical foliage. 

Bauhinia kockiana

View up the hill towards the pavilion

One of the water features

On the whole, this small theme garden within the huge tract of park land that is Lake Gardens offers a great deal of visual interest even if the species to which it is ostensibly dedicated might put on a better show elsewhere. Secluded and quiet, even in comparison with other parts of Lake Gardens, it also makes a great spot for escaping the hustle and bustle of the city for a little bit.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Happy Pongal...

... Makar Sankranti and Maghi! These and a slew of related holidays are celebrated this weekend in South Asia and by various South Asian diaspora communities elsewhere.

South Indian-style Hindu temple in Singapore

If you want to know a bit more, you can find last year's Pongal/Makar Sankranti post here.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

German Article about the Jardin Majorelle

Mainly because the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, Morocco, is one of the gardens I dream of visiting one day and because I like this particular online magazine, here is an article from the German internet publication Souk Magazine, which focuses on Middle Eastern arts, cultures, and current events:

Paradies des Schöpfers

If you want to know more about the Jardin Majorelle, you can visit its website which comes in French, Arabic, and English.

Winter Travels - Part 1: The Orchid Garden, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I hope the new year has been off to a good start for everyone! My winter break so far has been spend traveling - hence my failure to post anything for most of the last three weeks - as I am in Malaysia visiting my significant other who, after going to college in the US, has returned home to work here for a while. Needless to say I am enjoying luxuriant warmth and lush tropical vegetation and as always I am doing my best to explore nearby sites of horticultural interest, to be featured on this blog in days to come. First up today is Kuala Lumpur's Orchid Garden or Taman Orkid, located within the larger complex known as Lake Gardens and just across the road from the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. Though not huge, it displays a beautiful collection of orchids in a riot of colors, all nicely arranged in beds, pots, and as epiphytes on trees and wooden pergolas.

A view along one of the paths in the central part of the garden

Flower of the bamboo orchid (Arundina graminifolia)

One of the orchid beds, edged with ferns

Species and hybrids of the genus Vanda and similar genera are particularly well represented throughout the garden, though there are also a fair number of Dendrobium hybrids and the like in the collection.

Dendrobium phalaenopsis hybrids in the covered pergola at the entrance to the garden

A pink orchid of the Vanda alliance

Yellow and orange hybrids of Vanda and/or closely related genera

Rows of Vanda hookeriana hybrids

Flower of Vanda hookeriana or some very similar species

As for the design and layout of the garden, I particularly liked the combination of beds of orchids with tree ferns, since the pale green and delicate, feathery forms of the latter's leaves contrast very nicely with the bright colors and thick, waxy texture of the orchid flowers.

  Pale pink and yellow orchids set among tree ferns and Plumeria trees

View through stands of tree ferns towards the central portion of the garden

If you want to visit, keep in mind that the Orchid Garden is free on weekdays but apparently charges a small admission fee on weekends and holidays.