The misunderstood Poinsettia

It’s been AGES since I last posted!  Sorry about that, loyal followers.   Life has been busy and I have added some new hobbies, which have diverted my attention and time away from the blog.  Now, let’s talk about poinsettias!


I’m not entirely sure why I typed that title for the post.  Now that I have, I have a lot to discuss.  My inspiration for the post was when I visited the good old Myriad Botanic Gardens in Oklahoma City a couple of weeks ago.  To be honest, I have been a little disheartened with the direction of the gardens since the garden ownership changed a few years ago.  There is a lot more marketing (good) but a lot of it seems to have nothing to do with plants (sad).



Anyway, that being said, when we were at the gardens a couple of weeks ago they had the whole placed decked out for the holidays and the conservatory was lit up with Christmas lights.  (All normal lighting was turned off, so you couldn’t really see the plants.)  In the lobby area they had tons of Poinsettias.  At first I walked by them, not realizing there was something special about this temporary splash of holiday color.  There were SIGNS by each of these plants.  (I can’t tell you how many times I have been in botanic gardens and seen a plant or tree that I didn’t know and I couldn’t find a label for it anywhere.)  The signs caught my attention and then I noticed these Poinsettias were not all the same.  And I don’t mean they were just different colors.  There were striking differences.



I was really delighted to see that the Myriad had gone out of their way to track down some named varieties that were different from the norm. They were only lacking a bit more signage to call people’s attention to the understated exhibit. It could be pretty educational, describing what a cultivar is, how they are selected and bred, and how the horticulture industry works. It’s all in my head.


Now back to my title, I think the Poinsettia is misunderstood. First, the Poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima, belonging to the huge Eurphorbia genus, which mostly consists of succulent plants that the average person would call “cacti.” You wouldn’t know it with a quick look at the Poinsettia, but it’s true. Now maybe the Poinsettia is saying “Hey, that’s just my crazy family.  I’m nothing like those spiky beasts.”  But they are closely related. Second, those colorful “flowers” that everyone loves at Christmas time… well, they’re not really flowers. Those are colored leaves, called bracts. The flowers are the small yellow bits in the middle.  Third, they just don’t look like that in the wild.  The compact potted plants sold all over the place between Thanksgiving and Christmas have been grafted and bred for those traits.  The natural species is much more lanky and with less prominent colorful bracts.  Fourth, the rumors of their toxicity are hyperbolic.  Most people will have little to no reaction from the sap.  Others could have some skin irritation.  If you were to each a leaf,  you might puke.  You would have to eat a lot of Poinsettias to have anything close to a fatal dose.


Finally, I will leave you with some photos of a favorite relative of mine.  It is the Jamaican Poinsettia Tree (Euphorbia punicea). There is a large specimen at the Myriad Botanic Gardens and I have also seen this tree growing outdoors at a botanic garden in Florida.

Euphorbia punicea (Jamaican Poinsettia tree)
Euphorbia punicea (Jamaican Poinsettia tree) at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, Miami, Florida.
Jamaican Poinsettia Tree
Jamaican Poinsettia Tree – macro view of flower. Myriad Botanic Gardens, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


Encyclia season

I really like Encyclias.  They have become my favorite orchid genus for a number of reasons.  They have interesting, colorful, but not overly showy flowers.  There is a wide variety of species and colors produced by these species.  They grow well in my climate and with my care.  They are decently attractive when not in bloom.

I have collected quite a few species and hybrids over the last few years, but I have only brought a small group into bloom.  I have had multiple flowerings of Enc plicata since I purchased it three years ago.  Otherwise, my plants have been growing, but not blooming.  This year has been an exception.

Encyclia ‘Gay Rabbit’

These flowers look very different from the ones that were on the plant when I purchased it two years ago.  The pot is large, with many bulbs, so I am thinking that it is possible I have two separate plants and the one that bloomed this year is not Gay Rabbit.  Hopefully next year I will have multiple spikes and we can see if there are different plants in this pot.

Encyclia seidelii
Encyclia seidelii
Encyclia seidelii
Encyclia seidelii in macro

These were my first blooms from  Enc seidelii.  I wasn’t expecting any since this is a small plant.  The flowers themselves are small very striking.  The pictures don’t really do them justice.

Encyclia belizensis
Encyclia belizensis in macro

These are also my first flowers for Enc belizensis.  They are primarily a creamy yellow with a white lip and touches of pink here and there.  These are the largest flowers of the species I have currently in flower.

Since I had several species in bloom at the same time I decided to try my hand at hybridizing.  I did it a little haphazardly right before leaving town.  I just used my finger to remove pollinia from one species and move it to the next.  It looks like some of the crosses are taking and seed pods are forming.  If all goes well, I will send my pods off to an experienced hybridizer to germinate them and grow them out.

Encyclia ramoense 'Dr Pepper'
Encyclia ramoense ‘Dr Pepper’
Encyclia ramoense 'Dr Pepper'
Encyclia ramoense ‘Dr Pepper’ in macro

This is a really neat flower, due to the unique shape and colors, as well as the fragrance.  I am told the regular species, Enc ramoense, has blooms that smell like Dr. Pepper.  This particular cultivar was labeled ‘Dr Pepper’ so I guess it has a marked fragrance like that favorite beverage of mine.  Anyway, we discovered something interesting about this plant.  I couldn’t smell any fragrance from the flowers in my greenhouse.  I brought the plant out to the picnic table on our back deck and smelled it a little later and – voila! It smelled like Dr. Pepper!  I took the plant inside for Christie to smell: nothing.  I took it back outside with her and the scent returned!  It seems to be triggered by sunlight.  I don’t know if this is a known phenomenon or not, but it sort of makes sense that plants could regulate a chemical reaction by sunlight.

Encyclia Grand Bahama (tampensis x plicata)

My other Encyclia in bloom right now is a primary hybrid between Enc tampensis and Enc plicata.  It has dainty blooms that are lightly fragrant with a chocolate smell.

Encyclia Grand Bahama (tampensis x plicata) in macro

Last, but not least, I want to show off some beautiful leaves.  Encyclia guatemalensis hasn’t flowered for me yet, but these leaves are just amazing.

Encyclia guatemalensis

I imagine the colors would vary based on light conditions.  I hope my leaves stay this color and I get some blooms next year.

As usual, my Enc plicata is now producing a bloom spike, so I should have flowers in August and September.

Ceratostylis rubra in bloom

I have admired Ceratostylis rubra for several years.  It is not a flashy orchid with big, colorful flowers or even fragrant flowers.  It’s just simple and interesting.  One of the features I really like is the woody look, caused by the papery, brown cataphylls that surround the base of each leaf.

The flowers are also beautiful, if you take the time to look at them.  They are small and orange, but have the opalescent shimmer commonly found in orchids.  The center is pure white.  When I look at these flowers I think of creamsicle.

I bought my plant in April and this is the first time it has bloomed for me.  Because the flowers are held so close to the plant, it is easy to miss when in bloom.  I was lucky to notice it and will have to watch closely for it each year.  I assume it will probably flower around the same time again next year.

Greenhouse repair, stage 2

Before leaving for my annual trip to Florida, I was able to get the greenhouse put together again.  I spent about 10 hours (total) cleaning out the broken panel and patching it with clear tape.  If I told you there were 576 holes I would probably be lying.

Patched panel

Because there were actually more.

Patched panel

Once it was finally patched I sealed the ends with tape again and put the end caps on.  I put the panel back on top, flipping it over so the patched side is now down and the suspected stronger side is now facing up.  Some caulk and screws were all that was needed to make it official.

Greenhouse roof re-installed

It doesn’t look great on the inside, but from the outside it looks okay and at least it is closed in once again.  I am hoping it will last a while before I have to actually replace any of the panels.

Greenhouse repair, stage 1

It has been four years since I built my greenhouse.  All in all, I am very happy with it.  This Spring we had some severe thunderstorms roll through (quite typical for central Oklahoma).  One of them dumped a lot of hail about the diameter of a quarter.  Many people in town got new roofs after the hail storm, but our new roof withstood the hail without any damage.  The greenhouse didn’t fair so well.

Roof of greenhouse riddled with holes from hail damage

The roof and walls of the greenhouse are made of triple wall polycarbonate.  There is one seam in the roof.  Based on my damage assessment I’m guessing that one of the sides of the polycarbonate must be tougher and more resistant to damage than the other side.  I had no idea when I installed the sheets.  Nor did I realize I was putting different sides up on the two pieces.  The repeated pounding of the hailstones punctured through the upper surface on one of the polycarbonate sheets and left the other sheet unharmed.  I wish I had known this when I was building the greenhouse.

The panel on the left is completely without blemish while the panel on the right has hundreds of holes.  You can also see where the panel has filled with water (top of the image).

At the time of damage I couldn’t just remove the sheet and replace it.  For one, replacement material is expensive and difficult to procure.  I had to buy a huge sheet (8′ x 36′) and cut it down to manageable sheets to get it home the first time around.  It was also still getting down near freezing some nights at the time, so I couldn’t leave the greenhouse unprotected.  Because I used triple wall polycarbonate the holes weren’t actually exposing the interior of the greenhouse to cold air from outside.  There was still a layer of protection.

Seeds from our Sycamore tree and other junk has been washed off the roof, right into the channels of the polycarbonate panel.

I stalled and life was busy and in the meantime, the holes of the roof allowed all sorts of water and junk to get inside.  Because the ends of the panel were sealed shut, the roof actually filled up with water, to the level of the lowest hole in each channel.

Water draining from one of the channels after I removed a screw attaching the panel to the frame.

What to do now?  Well, I have removed the damaged sheet, which was very heavy with the added weight of the water.  I drained the water and I am in the process of cleaning it out.  This is a time consuming process and I’m afraid the final outcome will not be a clear panel.  The walls and other roof panel of my greenhouse still look about as clear and clean as the day I installed them, but this roof panel will likely not be as pristine.

Typical hole punched by hail

Once the cleaning process is complete I will be patching the (hundreds of) holes with clear packing tape.  I have patched some areas and then tried to shoot water through those channels to flush out the junk.  That didn’t work as well as I had hoped, so I am going to try to use the holes to wash out the junk, and maybe also use a shop vac.

My patch job . Not the prettiest thing around, but hopefully it will do the job.

After the junk is out, I will do all of the patching, re-seal the ends of the panel, flip the panel so the repaired side is down, and then reattach it to the roof.  With the repaired side facing down any “leaks” would just be allowing the warm air from the greenhouse into the cell, rather than cold outside air into the cell.  Also, if it is true that the sides of the polycarbonate differ in strength then this puts the stronger side facing up to weather the next inevitable hail storm.

Stay tuned to see how the repair progresses.


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