Monthly Archives: January 2012

A New Look

bench in conservatoryLast Friday, Mike and Ryan gave me a huge head start on getting the Horridge Conservatory put back together after our renovations. I came to work Monday morning and was delighted to see what they had done. The plants are pleasingly displayed in their pots around the greenhouse. The ground is raked out and debris was removed. A bit of cocoa hull mulch was put down (more would be good). Flat stepping stones were put to good use in two new paths as well as creating a stable base for the benches.

chinese fan palmA word about the benches: These are three little cast iron benches, painted white, with Victorian-looking scroll-work. Each one is different. They were upstairs and must have been beastly to carry down! As a student, many years ago, I worked in the Plant Chemistry lab for Dr. Hull.*  Every once in a while, I’d be invited to have a cup of coffee  with Dr. Hull and Dr. Shaw. We’d troop upstairs and sit on the little white benches where a couple of graduate students would join us, and talk about plants, research, and URI basketball. It’s a fond memory and seeing those benches in the Conservatory makes me smile.

*Twist of Fate: I work out of the SAME room now…hmmm…

bench detailbench detailbench detailThere’s more work to be done in the Conservatory, rearranging plants, replacing labels, bringing more plants back in from their scattered temporary homes. The Desert is being laid out, as well as the Food and Economic Crops display.  CJ is redesigning the Carnivorous Plants/Bog Garden. The Conservatory is bright and beautiful, a welcome respite from the cold grey winter. Stop by and enjoy a little time with the plants. Thanks to the boys for their help!

dwarf papaya


The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

butterfly on Echinacea

You can’t really ignore bugs if you’re a gardener. They are always there, sometimes causing problems, and sometimes just being stunningly beautiful. Lately, the bugs in the Conservatory, and all the greenhouses, have been problematic. This happens every winter. My theory is that the “bad” bugs are always around, but in the summer, the plants grow faster than the damage, and the vents and doors are always open, allowing “good” bugs a chance to come in and get populations under control. But right now, the plants are just barely growing with the days so short, and the bad bugs are having a field day!

long tailed mealybug

Long-tailed Mealybug -- Bad!

Yesterday, I spent a few hours going through the greenhouses with Elwood, looking at the plants and collecting insects to check out under the dissecting microscope. This is one of my favorite things to do, and I’m lucky to have Elwood to help out. He knows the good guys and the bad guys very well, having managed an IPM program at a local greenhouse.

brown scale insects

Scale Insects --Bad!

IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management, and is an approach  that uses comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests, and their interaction with the environment, to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment. It involves identifying and monitoring populations of insects, using cultural/preventive methods (such as crop rotation and resistant varieties) , and using control methods when necessary, evaluating the control method both for effectiveness and risk. Effective, less risky pest controls are chosen first.


Thrips -- Bad!

Right now we are evaluating our greenhouses and pest populations for a fascinating part of IPM: Biocontrol. Biocontrol is the planned release of natural enemies of pests. These natural enemies can be other insects — predators or parasitoids — or pathogens (diseases). (It can also mean an insect which eats only a specific plant, as a control of invasive plant species). URI is home to the Biological Control Lab, a USDA approved Quarantine Facility,  for newly imported exotic biological control agents, and also an insect rearing and research facility for accepted biological control agents. Lisa and Dr. C manage the Biocontrol Lab, and they are a wealth of information! I pester them constantly with questions.


Phytoseiulus --Good!

hypoaspis miles

Hypoaspis -- Good! Ugly!

By next week, we should have a good idea of exactly which bad guys are present, and how numerous they are,  then we send away for our Natural Enemies to release in the greenhouses. Stay tuned!

harmonia lady bug

A natural enemy at work: Asian lady beetle eating a winged soybean aphid. Photo courtesy of Iowa State University.

Beautiful Butterfly

Hippeastrum papilio, butterfly amaryllisButterfly Amaryllis: This beautiful plant, Hippeastrum papilio,  is not as well known as the amaryllis plant that many people enjoy giving and receiving as gifts during the holidays. Those amaryllis (common name) are actually Hippeastrum too! There is a bit of taxonomical confusion going on here, as the Hippeastrum were previously in the genus Amaryllis, but now are separate. Hippeastrum are the bulbs which originate from South America, and Amaryllis are those which originate from Africa. The amaryllis we enjoy during the holidays as well as the subject here, Butterfly Amaryllis, are all Hippeastrum….from the Greek words for “horse star”, in reference to the large star shaped flowers.

In any event, the Butterfly Amaryllis is an unusual flower, with maroon markings on greenish white petals. Grey anthers stand out from the flower. The foliage is bright green, smooth, and satiny.  The name “Butterfly” comes from the shape of the two upper petals which stand out to the sides, resembling the wings of a butterfly. Papilio is from the Latin word for butterfly.

Although it flowered a few weeks ago, the Butterfly Amaryllis in the greenhouse is flowering again. These plants do not need the dry dormant period that the Holiday Hippeastrum (new name?!) do, and so they are easier to care for. Keep them “crowded” in the pot, with one- to two-thirds of the bulb above the soil. Water the soil and keep it moist, without getting water on the actual bulb (This is true for the other amaryllis as well). Usually they will flower in late winter/early spring. During the rest of the year, they will remain a pleasing foliage plant, photosynthesizing and building up the bulb for next year’s flowering. After a few years side bulbs may develop, which can be left with the mother plant for a fuller flowering display. Or, separate them into their own pots to eventually flower on their own.

The better known “Florist’s Amaryllis”/Hippeastrum can be challenging to keep through the year for re-flowering during the holidays. This article from the United States National Arboretum explains what they need in order to bloom again.