Flower, You Hoya

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but some plants suffer much neglect in my hands. My aloe, for example, has occasionally gone a whole year without a drop of water.

Hoya, also known as wax plant or Hindu rope plant, is another of my neglected plants. This plant is about 25 years old and has sat in the same pot in the same location for the past 15 years. The pot is only 3 inches square, dwarfed by the 3-foot-long “Hindu rope,” a single stem along which grow thick, green, involuted leaves. The hoya sits on a west-facing windowsill of a tower window in my house, and the lanky stem can drip down another 2 to 3 feet before it’s got to be shortened to keep from being bumped by anybody beneath it. One reason the plant gets watered so infrequently is because watering involves pulling out and climbing a ladder stairway to get to and gingerly water the relatively small pot.Hoya stems

Another reason for the neglect is because hoya is a succulent whose thick fleshy leaves store water. The plant is more likely to die from too much water than too little.

Although I occasionally glance admiringly at the stem tracing down the wall, there are time periods when hoya grabs my attention. That’s when it flowers. The flowers arise in sprays of about a dozen, pinkish, tubular blossoms, each looking as if has been sculpted from wax. Not only are these flowers pretty, but they also emit the most delicious aroma of chocolate.

I’m not sure when or why my hoya flowers. Failure to bloom can be attributed to, according to reliable sources, “over-watering, over fertilization, insufficient sunlight, or plant immaturity. “ Ha! My guess is that a period of consistent, but not excessive, watering following the dry spells would coax the plant to flower. Now might be the time to start watering because, perhaps in celebration of lengthening days, the plant has, after all these years, sprouted a new shoot.

I’ll go and water the hoya right this minute.

And The Temperature Is . . . ?

“You never miss the water till the well runs dry,” goes the line from the old blues tune. In the same vein, you — or I, at least — never miss the thermometer till it breaks. I never realized how tied I was to the temperature until the number boxes on my digital thermometer started reading “- – – – -.”Digital thermometer, malfunctioning

Thermometers have come a long way since the liquid-in-glass ones that served so well for so many years mounted outside so many kitchen windows or on porch posts. You had to get close to read them, and they picked up some heat from proximity to the house.

After that came indoor-outdoor ones, using the same principal but with two glass columns. The “outdoor” column is fed by a thin tube threaded through a small hole in a window frame and ending with a sensing bulb. These thermometers let you essentially get your eyes further from the sensing portion.

Then came digital versions of both types of liquid-in-glass thermometers. Digital thermometers are just the ticket for those of us who like to know if the temperature is 31.4° F. or 32.2° F. Not that the sensors of these thermometers were necessarily accurate to 0.1° F (as stated, sometimes, in the fine print), but they did give a feeling of exactitude.

Still, all these thermometers measure temperatures in or near the house, unless you mounted one on a post out in the garden and kept running out to check the temperature. Or, you had a liquid-in-glass thermometer that registered the minimum and maximum temperatures since the last reading. As you might guess, I have one, have had it for over 30 years, in fact. Two sliding, iron indicators are pushed by the expanding fluid, with one indicator staying where it is pushed to its high point, the other to its low point. High and low temperatures are indicated for the period since the sliders were last reset by being slid back with a magnet against the fluid. Very elegant and very accurate, but you still have to run out to the garden to read the present temperature.Minimum-maximum thermometer

Enter wireless, digital, minimum-maximum thermometers, the ultimate in temperature readiness. With this thermometer (which, as you might have again guessed, I own), I can read present and extreme temperatures from the warmth of my bedroom. Except when they stop working. Then you really miss knowing the temperature to within a tenth of a degree.


Epilogue: Yes, I checked and changed the batteries. Customer support, last time I got through to them, tells me I have to use fresh batteries, not the rechargeable ones. And I have to take all the batteries out for 15 minutes. Then, while the outdoor and indoor sensors are 3 to 5 ft. apart, I have to first put in the outdoor sensor’s batteries, followed by the indoor sensor’s batteries, and let the sensors “communicate” for 20 minutes. Etc., etc. The thermometer still doesn’t work. Perhaps I should click my heals together three times. I bought a new, and, I hope, better one.


Paradise Under Glass, and I Take a Bit of it Home

Wandering in and out of the narrow alleys, I could barely squeeze past other, potential buyers. On my way back from a lecture and book selling, a wad of money was burning a hole in my pocket. I muttered to a young couple who glanced up to let me pass, “I feel like a drug addict.” A fleeting, sympathetic smile, and they, like others, were again intent on the offerings, hardly aware, like us other “addicts,” of other humanity.Inside Logee's Greenhouses.

I was lucky, able to leave Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson, CT only $75 poorer. But richer in plants. Perched on the tray that I carried to my car were small plants of fragrant wax plant (Hoya odorata), Nordmann Seedless Nagami kumquat, and Golden Nugget mandarin (tangerine), all three promising to offer, for years to come, sweet fragrance, beauty, and good eating in the case of the mandarin and kumquat. By not allowing myself to dawdle, I was able to keep my trembling hand from grabbing at a Black Mission fig plant, a Dwarf Cavendish banana plant (“only 3 feet high!”), or a Hoya lauterbachii, with fragrant blooms the size of teacups. 

Most of Logee’s plants are small and not cheap, understandable considering the wide array of plants they stock. Aside from my kumquat and mandarin, I could have chosen from among a dozen other citrus varieties, including some interesting oddities like Buddah’s Hand Citron, whose fruit does, in fact, look like the draped fingers on a hand. Instead of the fragrant wax plant, I could have driven home with any one of 15 other species or varieties of wax plant. Not that Logee’s is limited only to fragrant or fruiting plants. They stock almost a 100 different kinds of begonias, among other houseplants.

Part of the jasmine collection at Logee's

Part of the jasmine collection at Logee’s

Entering the greenhouses is an experience very unlike that of entering most commercial greenhouses, the latter with their soaring roofs of crystal-clear glass, their buoyant atmosphere, and scoured concrete floors. Logee’s is Paradise for plant lovers, with a mix of concrete and dirt paths so narrow that leaves and tendrils grab at you from either side. Fortunately, plants are more organized at Logee’s than in Paradise: collections of such plants as citrus, passionflower, orchids, and angel’s trumpets are each grouped together. Perhaps the star of the show is the Ponderosa lemon tree, shipped by train then horse and buggy to the greenhouse in 1900 and still bearing crops of grapefruit sized lemons (also called American Wonder lemon and thought to be a hybrid of lemon and citron, originating as a seedling the 1880s). Over the years, it’s given rise to numerous offspring, one of which you can purchase, growing in a 2.5” pot, for $11.95.

Citrus: New Plants from Old

New plants of Ponderosa lemon and other citrus varieties can be propagated one of three ways.

Lemons and limes tend to root easily from cuttings, which are leafy branches with their bases plunged into a moist rooting medium such as a 1:1 mix of perlite and peat moss. Because citrus are evergreen, air around the cuttings has to be kept humid enough so the still-rootless stems don’t dry out. A clear plastic or glass tent does the trick. The leaves need to photosynthesize so they have energy to make roots, so some light is needed. Not too much, though, or the cuttings cook in their tent.

Special rooting hormones, which are synthetic analogues of natural plant hormones, help cuttings to root. Synthetic hormones are used because they decompose more slowly than natural hormones (and in different concentrations, are used as herbicides, such as 2,4-D). Another possibility is to soak the cuttings in water in which have steeped stems of willow, a plant that roots very easily so presumably has some root-stimulating goodies to share. I avoid the hassle of natural or synthetic hormones in rooting cuttings and, instead, pay careful attention to which stems I select for rooting, the rooting medium, and light.

Some citrus varieties can be propagated by seed. Usually a seed-propagated fruit gives rise to a baby different from the mother plant, reflecting the jumbling around of chromosomes as pollen and egg cells united. However, a few plants, and many citrus, exhibit apomyxis, where the seeds, although they look like normal seeds, are formed from cells of only the mother plant.

My new plant acquisitions: hoya and 2 citrus.

My new plant acquisitions: hoya and 2 citrus.

All the seedlings, then, are clones of each other and their mother. Well, not all, because in a given fruit, some seeds may be apomyctic and others may be the product of pollination. The apomyctic seedlings show their presence by their greater vigor and more upright stature.

Downsides to propagation by seedlings, apomyctic or otherwise, are that plants must go through a juvenile phases of some years before they are old enough to flower and fruit. Also, most citrus tend to be very thorny in their youth.

Kumquats Roots for Tangerine Tops

One way I justified my purchases at Logee’s was with my plan to use my new citrus plants to make more plants — by grafting, the third way of propagating citrus. All that’s needed is any citrus rootstock; they all are graft compatible. Not being able to throw away seeds, I have a few kumquat rootstocks started from seeds I spit out from my Meiwa kumquat fruits as I ate them a couple of years ago.

I’ll graft in spring, taking stems from the Golden Nugget mandarin to make a whip graft, a particularly easy kind of graft that gives quick results. Basically, a smooth, sloping cut on the kumquat rootstock will be matched against a similarly smooth, sloping cut on the “scion,” which is the stem I cut from the mandarin stem, with both bound together with a wrap of tape or cut rubber band. After removing leaves from the scion, grafting compound (Tree-Kote) or Parafilm seals the graft and scion against dessication before the scion and rootstock knit together, and the scion piece begins to grow.

The final step will be deciding what to do with my growing citrus orchard in pots. Plants for my annual sale, perhaps? The largest citrus orchard (potted) in the Hudson Valley?