Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hong Kong Orchid Tree Not an Orchid at All

By Lee Potts
Orchid Specialist

The Hong Kong Orchid tree impresses The Garden’s visitors year round with its incredible canopy that stretches over 30 feet wide and features delicate branches that drape over the walkways with six-inch, heart-shaped leaves. As beautiful as this canopy is, it’s during the winter that this tree becomes even more impressive — by producing an almost endless supply of magenta-purple flowers nearly as big as your hand for up to five months.

Although orchid has become an established fixture in this tree’s common name — and is a reference to the flowers’ resemblance to other orchids — The Hong Kong Orchid tree is actually a closer relative to the common garden pea.

The Hong Kong Orchid tree, botanically known as Bauhinia blakeana, is considered to be a natural species since it is sterile. Until a recent discovery of a lone tree in Hong Kong, it was believed that
none of these trees produced seed. Because of this, it is possible that all Hong Kong Orchid trees originated from one single tree cultivated by the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens in the late 1800s.

Although it is still debated today, Bauhinia variegata and Bauhinia purpurea are commonly thought to be the species that produced Bauhinia blakeana, which was discovered in 1880 by a French priest on the shore of Hong Kong Island near Pok Fu Lam. Many reports lead us to believe that this discovery was of a single Bauhinia blakeana which is the only one discovered in the wild. In 1908, the first scientific description was made by S.T. Dunn, superintendent of the Botanical and Forestry Department of Hong Kong, who assigned this tree to the genus Bauhinia and named it after Sir Henry Blake, British Governor of Hong Kong from 1898 to 1903.

By 1914 the Bauhinia blakeana was being introduced outside of The Hong Kong Botanical Gardens on a wider scale. It is often recognized from its image that appears on the Hong Kong flag and coins. In addition, a statue of this plant is on display in Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong. With the beauty of the year round foliage and winter purple magenta flower, we consider this tree to be a highly valued tropical treasure.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Low Maintenance Doesn’t Mean No Variety

Colorful tropical plants add beauty and create a relaxing atmosphere to any interior living environment whether at home or work. Maintaining tropical plants inside may seem to be challenging, but luckily there are many that are low maintenance. Three favorites come to mind:

The first is Sansevieria, commonly known as the snake plant. With very low water and light requirements, this is one of the easiest plants to maintain. There are several cultivars that range in size from six inches to around three feet. Colors range from dark green foliage to white with some cultivars having very intriguing combinations of both.

Consider using Sanseverias in containers along with the next plant on my list of favorite tropicals, Codiaenum variegatum, commonly known as the croton plant. There are hundreds of cultivars available, and my description cannot do this tropical treasure justice. Its bright patterned foliage includes an absolutely indescribable combination of green, yellow and red, with multiple leaf patterns and a variety of sizes. Crotons do well in indirect light and perform better if they are allowed to dry out between watering.

A third addition to this tropical container combination is bromeliads—specifically, the terrestrial Guzmanias or Neoregelias. The color range is wide open in this group of tropical plants, and their maintenance requirements are simple. Bromeliads can live without water for long periods of time, provided water is maintained in a naturally occurring cupped area located in the center of the plant. Keeping water in the “cupped” area will keep this tropical hydrated. Add fresh water once weekly to avoid the water becoming stagnant. Bromeliads, either alone or grouped in a container, will add remarkable beauty to any surrounding while not demanding a lot of maintenance.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Whoooo's Using Box #18?

The bluebird season is well on its way with numerous chicks ready to fly, if they haven't already by now. A few of the nestboxes have been claimed by chickadees, titmice and, in one box, a tree swallow claimed the same one it used last year. When we peeked in the box, a Canada goose feather wafted out and the swallow chased it down and returned it to its proper place. It didn't like our disturbing the decorating scheme.

One box, in particular, has been a big disappointment this year. We are in the fourth year of the monitoring project, and Box #18 has been the most successful in producing little blues. We believe its location near open areas and a few lampposts for perching places contribute to its success. However early in the season, we found feathers (perhaps a mourning dove) at the base of the support pole. There has been no bluebird activity nearby at all. No blues watching us or singing their lilting calls from the trees. Recently, we found owl pellets around the pole so we're sure the box is doomed and an owl is using it as a hunting base. We're going to relocate that box and hope the bluebirds will take an interest again.

This is the first year that we've had nests with six eggs in them and, in fact, there are two boxes with half-dozens in there. If they all hatch, those parents are going to be very busy catching meals for hungry chicks.

Also this year, we've noted a pair of wood ducks hanging around the duck box on the larger of the two ponds. Although bluebirds are our main responsibility, we do keep a watchful eye for all the birds and always have our binoculars in ready-mode. Seeing the wood ducks near the nestbox was exciting and we hope they have decided to use it. At this point we haven't checked the box for fear of spooking the ducks.

As in past years, some nests have been disturbed and the eggs disappeared. In one case, it was a house wren. Those birds are notorious for destroying bluebird nests and tossing the eggs out of the box. Then they go in and build their stick nests on top of the bluebirds' nests and take over. We also believe that snakes have gotten into at least one box. However, it's all part of nature and we keep that in mind.

So at this point, the season already has had a few surprises and we're always interested in whatever we find when we ride the trail. There's still lots of activity to come.