Monday, February 15, 2016

Tree Aloes Blooming In Southern California

I... sound... really...... awkward.  It's my first time narrating a video.  Clearly it's not my forte.  If you want more energy and enthusiasm... then... here you go...

She makes it look so easy.  For me it's easier to be enthusiastic in my writing...

I LOVE tree Aloes!   What's an Aloe good for?  Attaching orchids to!  If it isn't, then it's good for nothing.  I'm kidding... kinda.

Most of my tree Aloes aren't large enough to attach orchids to yet.  But, for some reason, most of them bloom at roughly the same time of year.  Why is that?  Is it a coincidence... or do the bulk of tree Aloes bloom at roughly the same time?  Or is it simply that... the bulk of tree Aloes that are commonly available in Southern California bloom at the same time?   Or do most Aloes in general bloom during winter?

I read somewhere that pollinating during winter is the best way to select for cold tolerance.  Hmmm... so... would this mean that winter bloomers proliferate faster?

As you can see from the video... my front yard, which is in Glendale, is full of drought tolerant and succulent plants.  Here's a photo of my front yard that I took 6 years ago...

It was a lot neater back then.  Now my front yard is extremely messy with garden debris here, there and everywhere.  I prefer it this way!  There's nothing orderly about nature.  I decided a while back that I don't want a garden... I want a habitat... and the more complexity/biodiversity the better!  I want the most niches for my nature!   I want the most species for my space!  Tiger, the very old neighborhood tomcat, sure loves the yard.  You can see him briefly in the video.

Initially the front yard was nothing but grass.  That didn't last long!  If you're a TRUE nature lover... then the opportunity cost of lawn is infinitely high.  Only one of my plant friends still has a lawn... not going to mention any names... Steve... :D  Wait a second... Fernando too?  Sheesh...

My very first tree Aloe was the Aloe thraskii in the video.  It was a gift from a friend in the Orchid Society of Southern California (OSSC).   I think it was only around 2 to 3 feet tall... and I distinctly remember my friend telling me that it wasn't going to grow much taller.  Hah!  I'm happy that he was quite mistaken.  His thraskiis are also now quite taller than 2 to 3 feet!

Since then I've been really interested in tree Aloes and have acquired a decent collection of them.  None of my tree Aloes are spectacular specimens like the ones you'd see at the Huntington Botanical Garden or the LA Arboretum... but I sure do enjoy them.  The hummingbirds and bees are also big fans of the tree Aloes.  And I've also seen a few smaller birds awkwardly trying to get to the nectar.

As you might have noticed... I didn't mention the epiphytes in the video.  There are actually quite a few of them so it would have taken too long to mention all the plants.  Plus, most of the epiphytes are new additions... so they really haven't had a chance to fill in very much.  It's only just recently that the potential hosts in the front yard have gotten large enough to start attaching larger epiphytes to.

It might sound strange to grow orchids alongside Aloes and other succulent plants.  But the orchid family actually has more species of technically succulent (CAM) plants than any other family.  There are thousands of epiphytic orchid species that are found in dry/spiny tropical forests around the world.  Many, if not most, of these drought tolerant orchid species are more than happy to grow outdoors year around here in Southern California.

Here's a gallery that I created on flickr to showcase photos of orchids growing on cactus and other succulent plants...

Please let me know if you happen to find any other flickr photos that belong in the gallery!

Epiphytes are wonderful additions to yards in suitable climates because they provide additional color and interest.  They also help provide food and shelter for all sorts of creatures.

Ok... so here are some quick notes on the Aloes in this video....

Aloe bainesii: This species is the largest tree Aloe and a relatively fast grower.  It's really not "precocious" though.  Mine almost bloomed for the first time this year... but then decided to quit.

Aloe africana: A good grower and it has my favorite bloom.  Probably.  It definitely has the tallest flower spike.  Plus, it blooms twice a year.  I read somewhere that Aloe hybrids are more likely to bloom twice a year... so maybe my africana isn't the pure species.

Aloe arborescens (variegated):  At first I wasn't a fan of variegation... but then it started to grow on me.  Maybe someday I'll even catch up to Steve in terms of variegation appreciation.  Hah.  That would be impossible.  But I definitely would love to have a large tree Aloe that's variegated.  The problem is that they are not readily available...

So I'm hoping that my variegated arborescens will cross with my other tree Aloes.  Unfortunately, for some reason, this year it finished blooming just before the rest of my Aloes started blooming.  In a month or two I plan on removing the offshoots, rooting them and planting them around the front yard.  Hopefully the disparity in locations will result in a disparity in blooming times.  I've noticed that this is generally the case with orchids (more shade = less heat = later blooming).

Aloe dichotoma:  The slow grower is actually the slowest grower.  I've had mine for years but it still hasn't bloomed.  It's a stupendous species though.  Here's my friend with his...

Aloe ferox:  Not the happiest camper.  It bloomed a year or two ago... but then I failed to remove all the flowers that fell into its crown.  I guess the rain + detritus proved to be a good combination for some fungus/bacteria... so a bad combination for the Aloe.  I thought it was a goner but it seems to be outgrowing the problem.  But it's definitely never really thrived.

Aloe Hercules:  Is a cross between dichotoma and bainesii.  In my opinion it's the fastest grower.  You can see some earlier photos of it in this blog entry...

It bloomed for the first time last year.  But evidently it decided that blooming was overrated because it didn't bloom again this year.

Aloe marlothii:  Not the fastest grower... but definitely a trooper.  It was already pretty large when I planted the The Grevillea "Red Hooks" near it.  The Grevillea was in a one gallon pot and I guess I failed to read the label.  The label probably said something about Jack and the Beanstalk because the Grevillea skyrocketed right after I planted it.  

Aloe plicatilis:  A very distinct tree Aloe.  This species can potentially make a really great phorophyte for smaller epiphytes... but unfortunately it's a slow grower.

Aloe speciosa: I've heard quite a few people say that this species has the best bloom.  And I can definitely see why.  The form of the plant itself is also quite pleasing.  For some reason I'm a bit surprised that mine is splitting.  It's a perfect height to split... but I guess that most of the ones that I've seen have only had one head.  Well, as the saying goes, two heads are better than one!

Aloe striata:  ... I believe.  Not a tree Aloe!  Still... there's something about the leaves that are definitely appealing (pastel luminescence?).  Usually it starts blooming just as the rest of the Aloes finish blooming.  This year it's blooming at the same time.  It even has 3 spikes on it.  Hopefully some bees or hummingbirds will cross pollinate it with the tree Aloes.  I'd definitely love to see what the hybrid would look like!

Aloe thraskii: The plant itself has my favorite form.  It's very curvy.  The bloom is probably the least showy though.  However, it is by far the most consistently pollinated.  In fact, the weight of the seed pods usually breaks the flower stalk.  So far it's the only Aloe that's "volunteered".  I discovered a handful of seedlings near the base of its trunk the spring after we had far more rain than usual.

Aloe vaombe:  This species is from Madagascar.  "Vaombe" is an excellent word.  It's also an excellent Aloe.  The form and flowers are both really quite nice.

I'll probably have more Aloe seeds than I can sow.  Plus, in order to plant plenty of variegated Aloe arborescens around the front yard... I'm going to have to remove and/or cut back a bunch of other plants.  So please let me know if you live in the Glendale area and are interested in some drought tolerant plants/seeds.

Here are some links...

Please let me know if you have any questions!