From Spider Lily to Holly Leaf Cherry

spider lily (Cleome hassleriana)Catalina cherry (Prunus ilicifolia lyonii)Over the years, I have gained respect for the spider flower (Cleome hassleriana). It is a drought tolerant annual that deserves wider recognition. It’s often left out of the spring flower garden for no good reason.
Spider flower, appearing in white, pink or lavender, is adaptable to nearly any kind of soil and any sort of watering regime. It only asks that the earth in which it grows be kept reasonably dry, whether this is achieved by planting it in sandy soil or by watering it no more than once or twice a week.
In the Valley, spider flowers planted in early spring should bloom nearly without interruption for three to six months. More flowers will develop when faded flowers are quickly and regularly removed. By the same token, if you do let it go to seed, you will be rewarded by a crop of flowers next spring as a result of its seeds germinating wherever they happen to fall from the mother plant. Spider flower is in the same reliably self-sowing category as larkspur, calendula, bachelor buttons and sweet alyssum.
Kathy Kravitz, who lives in Winnetka, wanted to know the identity of a plant with wreath-shaped foliage. She described it as follows.
“This plant comes up every year after we get a lot of rain, in the midst of cold weather. I think it popped up in January this year. Later on, during the first spell of very hot weather, it usually wilts, falls over and then it’s gone until the next year.
“I never planted anything here. It just showed up by itself and has been here for at least 10 years, maybe even 15. Several years ago, it flowered.”
Kravitz’s plant is a voodoo lily (Sauromatum venosum). Although the voodoo religion is native to Africa, voodoo lilies come from tropical Asia. The fact that her voodoo lily “just showed up” testifies to its growth from a seed that was swallowed by a bird and then excreted in her garden, where it germinated. Voodoo lilies are not true lilies but belong to the Arum family, or aroids. If you ever had an indoor plant, whether on your office desk or over the kitchen sink, there is a good chance it was an aroid.
Aroids include philodendrons, anthuriums, aglaonemas, caladiums, spathiphyllums and dieffenbachias. Pothos or devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), whose leaves are heart-shaped and colored green and yellow or green and white, is the most widely grown aroid, possessing the status of America’s favorite house plant. With occasional fertilization and weekly watering, pothos grows right out of the pot and will trail across your desk or down the side of your bookcase.
One of the most popular shade-loving plants in Valley gardens is the calla lily. The calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) is the quintessential representative of the aroid group on account of its unmistakable spadix and spathe, the ornamental “flower complex” found in all aroids. The spadix, a golden yellow spike in the case of the calla lily, is surrounded by a pure white modified leaf known as a spathe.
Calla lilies thrive even in poor-quality soil and do not require fertilization when garden grown. The key to keeping calla lily plants looking good is to prune out all leaves and flowers as soon as they begin to bend. Calla lilies spread quickly by means of fleshy underground stems known as rhizomes.
The calla lily’s spathe is white, but aroid spathes can appear in other colors as well, depending on the plant. The calla lily variety ‘Green Goddess’ has white spathes flushed with green. The black calla (Arum palaestinum) has deep purple spathes.
The flamingo lily (Anthurium Andraeanum), another popular indoor plant, probably has the most memorable spathe; it is flat, heart-shaped, pink or red in color, with a shiny vinyl texture.
The spathes of voodoo lilies can appear in almost any color. Voodoo lilies that grow from tubers (Sauromatum species) have greenish yellow spathes that are spotted purple.Voodoo lilies that grow from corms (Amorphophallus species) have pink, red or purple spathes.
Corms are generally thought of as unspectacular underground storage organs found in a limited number of garden ornamentals, including gladiolus. Voodoo lily corms, by contrast, can grow as large as basketballs and weigh up to 100 pounds.
These corms are edible and, in India and Indonesia, are used for a variety of culinary and medicinal purposes.
Voodoo lilies generally send up their briefly blooming flowers in late spring and before foliage appears. In this context, Kathy’s voodoo lily is unusual since its foliage grew during the winter, perhaps because of the significant rainfall we received after several relatively dry winters. Incidentally, voodoo lily flowers have a malodorous scent which attracts pollinating flies. All parts of voodoo lilies are poisonous and skin contact may cause an allergic reaction.
In the Valley, voodoo lilies perform best when planted in the shade.
Mary Davis of Glendale sent a picture of a variegated milk thistle.
“Is this a plant or a weed?” she asked. Variegated milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is one of the most aesthetic weeds you will encounter, especially in its juvenile, pre-flowering stage, when a tight rosette of silver and sea green foliage develops nearly at ground level. Eventually, the plant goes vertical and shows lavender flowers but by then its glory days have passed. Its silver coloration and spininess work in tandem to protect milk thistle from predators since the more silvery its leaves, the more spines you will find growing upon them. Milk thistle has been used medicinally for thousands of years and is especially effective in treating liver ailments.
Tip of the week
Ricky Grubb of Sunland Tujunga photographed the flowers and fruit of a holly leaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) that he found growing wild in his neighborhood. “The cherries are delicious,” he wrote, “though their pits are larger than those in conventional cherries. These Los Angeles native trees grow up to 14-feet tall, commonly along swales and on the lower one-third reach of slopes in chaparral forest and riparian ecotones (transitional zones between ecosystems). They only grow to five feet when found on dry, unirrigated hilltops.”

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