Herself's Houston Garden

Conservation through cultivation

Dodder vine (Cuscuta pentagona)

Dodder vine is an amazing plant, it is orange rather than green due to its lack of chlorophyl, it can’t make its own food.

Instead the dodder vine hatches in the spring from a seed and very slowly moves in a circle searching the air for beta-myrcene a volatile chemical emitted into the air by tomatoes and other plants. When it picks up the scent of beta-myrcene it grows in the direction of the odor until it finds the plant emitting it.

Once it reaches the plant it tightly winds itself around the plant, sinking roots into the host plant. The roots then suck up the juices in the host plant to feed itself. The host plant will then wilt and die.

Dodder vine also appears to exchange RNA with the host plant. Whether this is a way of exchanging information with the host plant or a way to reprogram it, much the way viruses reprogram our DNA is unknown.

Dodder is a member of the Morning Glory family.

It has very tiny leaves that are more like scales than leaves and tiny white flowers.

It is considered an invasive plant and a threat to the local ecology in Texas.

A new method of plant communication?
Genomic-scale exchange of mRNA between a parasitic plant and its host
YouTube video of dodder vine locating and reaching for a tomato plant
Cuscuta spp
Dodder management guide lines

Giant Crinum Lily ( Crinum asiaticum )

What the crinium looks like when not in bloom 9/17/07

What the crinium looks like when not in bloom 9/17/07

Crinium in bloom 7/16/14

Crinium in bloom 7/16/14

Criniums blooming at Mercer summer 2007

I first heard about these plants at a talk I attended on ‘Recommended Tropical Plants for Houston’. I knew I had to have some even before I laid eyes on them. At the Mercer March Mart I was able to score two of them. Despite a bit of deer damage they are settling in very well and I fully expect blooms next May.

The Crinum lilies are part of the amaryllis family. The leaves reach 3′-4′ in length. The plant will have a 5′ spread after it has had some time to grow. ( I did read a report online of one reaching 8′ across ) Blooms are impressive. You should have several blooms per plant. If in an unprotected location they may need staking but in full sun in a sheltered location they do just fine on their own.

Crinum lilies prefer sun, but will grow happily in dappled shade. Watering needs are average to above average but they are drought tolerant once established. Fertilize regularly to encourage more blooms. Once established you may get as many as 7 bloom cycles a year.

Foliage may brown a bit in the winter here depending on how cold winter is, but they should stay green and leafed out year round. If they lose leaves in the winter they will bounce back come the warm weather.

Divide the bulbs as needed. Plant is poisonous ( what isn’t down here? ).

One of the two crinums I planted grew huge and is thriving but hasn’t yet flowered. The other didn’t put forth a single leaf, but gave me some short lived blooms. Go figure. The deer do not seem to like this plant.

12/13 I saw a beautiful collection of these blooming away down in Galveston last week. There was a row of several of the plants alongside a drainage gully. All were white and all had a half dozen to a dozen flowers in bloom.

I have two of these 6′ apart, one is thriving, the other meh.

These died back during some hard frosts. Much of the plant turned to mush. I cut off the mushy parts and once the weather warmed it started putting out new leaves so it looks to be fine.

Survived and bloomed during the extreme heat and drought of summer 2011

Giant Crinum Lily lining driveway and gardens

In the summer of 2016 I decided it needed to be divided. I ended up with over 200 bulbs. I have it lining both sides of the driveway, along the front bed and partly up the right edge of the front bed. It’s blooming more frequently and seems to resist the hard freezes better.

More information:
Crinum asiaticum

Nature’s Way Resources

Nature's Way Resources
I’ve heard John talk about soil, everything you ever wanted to know about soil he knows and if you get a chance to hear one of his talks don’t miss it.

Nature’s Way sells composts, soils, and every thing you could want for your garden and as of this season plants.

Today is the first chance I had to wander up and check out his nursery. It’s at 1488 and 45, on the east side of 45. 1488 is much easier than 45 if you’re coming from The Woodlands.

If you are looking for shrubs or roses it’s the best and largest collection I’ve seen in any of the local nurseries. While they also have a selection of perennials and annuals, it’s the shrubs and roses that make it worth the trip.

I’ve not run across a better source of information on soil and organic plant growing than the company website.

Hack your garden using water crystals

Too dry to grow your favorite plant here? Try Water Storing Crystals.

July 9th
I tripped across these by accident last week. One user said they turned to mush in the heat, another source said they use them to grow palms in the desert. One person claims they super heated the soil in her outdoor potted plants? Other people claim to have used them for years with no problems.

I have a half dozen Angel’s Trumpets along the driveway, none get enough water, the top two keep dying from thirst. I dug up the top one and mixed in two tablespoons of the water crystals, dug a circle around the second and mixed in a tablespoon of crystals, then watered both.

These are supposed to be non-toxic. Some gardeners grow their vegetables with soil mixed with the crystals. Other people were concerned about the break down product, acrylamide, a known neurotoxin. Cheaper crystals are more likely to contain acrylamide.

1 tablespoon per square foot is the recommended rate. Use them dry, mix with the soil, I used fertilized water to soak them after putting the soil back in the hole. The deeper you plant the crystals the better, heat and light break down the crystals and deeper water sources encourage plants to send their roots down deeper.

Use too many and you may find your plant uprooted after a downpour, several growers reported problems with the crystals expanding too much and pushing up plants or breaking pots.

Will they conserve water? Not really, the plant needs the amount of water it needs, what they will do is hold the water so you can go longer between waterings. My guess is you’ll lose less water to evaporation and run off.

Several companies make them, formulas vary. Some are polyacrylamide hydrogels (dissolve, last 3-4 months), some are cross-linked (not dissolvable, last 3-5 years) both seem to use potassium. The crystals are in the cross-linked group.

They were developed in the 1960s to help grow plants in the desert, absorb fluid for cleanup, for disposable diapers, depending on who you ask.

July 12, 2104
The ground is wetter around the plants with the water crystals nearby, otherwise I’m not seeing any difference.

On a forum a member claimed the water crystals super heated her container plants. I had this experience with some carnivorous terrariums that are in a large south west facing window. I don’t think I’d use them in containers which are place in a sunny area.

So far mixing the water crystals with the soil seems to be helping the plants. But it’s still too early to know for sure. They expand more with rain water than with tap water so leave more room for them outside.

The water crystals when mixed with soil and planted under new plants in areas that are often dry have helped. The plants are staying green longer and not wilting and the soil feels damper around the plants that have crystals mixed into the soil

Mixed in with potted plants they didn’t work so well, they tended to clump and block air from the roots and the pots were much hotter than the pots with out the crystals.

March 2017

These crystals might be good for short term design stuff but in every case the plants who had water crystals mixed in with the soil died. That’s too bad, they look cool and it’s a great idea. Maybe a future version of them will work?

Polymer moisture crystals: magic for your garden

The myth of hydrogels
A greenhouse experiment finds water-sorbing polymers do not conserve water

See also:
Carnivorous plants and water crystals
Orchids and water crystals