Category Archives: Plant of the Week

Plant of the Week: Armatocereus

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I had a boyfriend once who was into bodybuilding. He had that big book with tons of pictures of Arnold Shwarzenegger and he would eat that white protein powder that is supposed to make you big and strong. He wasn’t THAT successful and Thank God! because big burly men are definitely not my thing.

 Up until two weeks ago I had never been to a body building contest, the thought had never even passed my mind. Which is semi strange, because I grew up in Venice Beach, home to one of the bigger events of body building, you think I would have at least some passing interest. Yet, I continued ignorant for 29 years, continuing to show off Muscle Beach to my tourist friends, but ignorant of the awesomeness that is a body building competition.

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Venice beach is a chaotic and exciting fiasco on 4th of July weekend (especially now that it has been overrun with trendy dot com beach lovers). Drunken ribaldry is bountiful, even more than usual, and this year included more fratty looking people in capes of American Flags than I ever remember. It was on our stroll that we discovered  the annual “Mr. and Mrs. Muscle Beach” competition and I am so glad we did. If you have never been to a body building competition I recommend it. Burly cartoonish men “dancing” their slow-paced moves to chosen soundtracks as “Eye of the Tiger” or a slow paced Celine Dion. Every stereotype you can imagine of Herculean bodybuilding men is showcased at these events and it is fabulous.

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So you ask me, what does this have to do with the Plant of the Week? Nothing really. Except, since I have plants on the brain most of my days it seems I find myself making farfetched connections between people and plants and plants and people and thus  anthropomorphizing the plants I see. This weeks plant is most definitely a plant on steroids.
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It was also Fourth of July weekend wandering through the haze of drunken partiers that I also found this massive cactus, Armatocereus. I had no clue what it was, I have never seen anything like it, but in that moment it reminded me of those bodybuilders, fittingly, it is also nicknamed the “armed cereus”.

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I know little else of this tree, and scoured the internet to even just get the little I could, other than its genus. It is quite uncommon in cultivation and they are said to be difficult to grow. Armatocereus is from South America and it is  known to grow nearly 40 feet. It’s distinct features is its “pinch points”, the segmented yearly growth cycles on its otherwise cylindrical and ribbed stems.
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Armotocereus, the ‘roided out, muscly, and jaw dropping body builder of the plant world. 

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Plant of the Week: Achillea Ageratum ‘Moonwalker’

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My first interaction with Yarrow was almost ten years ago when an ex-boyfriend cut himself in the shower unexpectedly (don’t ask). One of my industrious friends said that we should put yarrow on it because she had done so once when diving head first into a swimming hole and her gaping wound had healed wonderfully. So we made a poultice and pressed it against the wound. At the time, it seemed very magical to gather something from the garden and use it as a medicene, which is something I had never thought of.

Yarrow or Sweet Maudlin or English Mace or Sneezewort or scientifically known as Achillea can be found all over the world, though the origins of its name is most certainly Greek. It’s name being derived from the Greek myth of Achilles. In the Iliad, Achilles soldiers use yarrow to treat their wounds.

These pictures are of Achillea Ageratum “Moonwalker” my most favorite of all the yarrows.

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Yarrows uses are prolific and varied and go back centuries and can be seen very clearly even today. The phyto-therapeutic uses of Achillea can be inspected in the many papers I was able to find that study the anti fungal, anti-imflammatory, antimicrobial (just a few of its) properties. Some of the papers having names such as,

“Cytostatic activity of Achillea ageratum L.” or ”Essential oil composition and antimicrobial activity of wild and cultivated Moroccan Achillea ageratum L.: a rare and threatened medicinal species.” or ”Study of the topical anti-inflammatory activity of Achillea ageratum on chronic and acute inflammation models.”

In the Middle Ages, Achillea Ageratum, was used as a strewing herb to repel moth, lice, ticks and to spread a generally good smell. (At that time people did not shower as often so the spreading of fragrant herbs upon the floors of a household became popular and as people stepped upon the herbs the smells would emanate and their benefits released.)

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Yarrow stalks were also famously used as traditional tools for casting the I Ching.

If divination weren’t enough, yarrow is also of use to the single woman, it is said they were used as aids to find a husband. In Ireland women would dig up the plant and place it under their pillow and supposedly would then dream of their future husband.

I have also read it to be an ancient Viagra leading to other names such as “Old Man’s pepper-pot” and “Bad mans plaything”.

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Other than being a marvelous plant with medicinal properties and a fantastic history they are EASY! I have been the laziest bum in the entire century this season and in this horrible year of drought and my insistence in not watering once, it has come back in all it’s glory, persistently and perfectly. Drought tolerant and an easy cut flower, it’s ferny foliage is delicate, hardy, and beautiful. It is beneficial to insects and makes the perfect landing pads for butterflies. Ageratum is especially beautiful in my opinion and the roundedness of each of its little flowers makes me love it.
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(P.S. This is Maggie. A lifelong friend and a clown! She is about to run off to Peru for the sixth time to join Patch Adams on one of his yearly humanitarian clown missions. The garden is also in sort of full bloom and it was a pleasure to spend some time with her. )

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Plant of the Week: Dianthus Caryophyllus ‘Chomley Farran’

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Breeding is a strange thing and intuitive thing. A family tree of decisions and genes and colors melding into rainbows of purpose and mistake. So many of my friends are having babies these days, you wonder what will these strange alien creatures (us) coming out will look like. I saw this photo recently of a baby face coming out of the vaginal cavity. It was pretty much the best picture I have ever seen, I wish we could all have photos like that, giant screaming baby faces coming out of a dark holes for the first time. Anyway, I digress, I have never been a flower breeder, but I can imagine it must be like having thousands of little babies, often. Except, you get the pick out the ones you like and the throw away the ugly ones. ‘Chomley Farran’ is one of the beautiful ones. It sparkles and shines in the son and its bicolored mishmash of stripes make me genuinely feel a sense of joy on a shitty day.

Dianthus Caryophyllus, a carnation, a flower we’ve seen a million times. I never cared for them much. For some reason the idea that you can stick it in food coloring and it turns blue or lime green has never attracted me to it. Yet, ‘Chomley Farran’ sounds like a proper English gentlemen. A little bit like a Darcy or what is that guys name on “Bridget Jones Diary”? It begins in England, there used to be hundreds of these kinds of carnations, they were called “Bizzares”. ‘Chomley’ is one of the last of the good old boys of the   Victorian era of insanely awesome carnations, as I imagine they might have been. So many things are dissapearing these days – animals, plants, languages. I always wonder if in the span of infinity they will ever be birth again into the endless amounts of possibilities.

Some flowers are for sheer numbers, for a wall of color, to strew around and make garlands of, to throw onto your bed. ‘Chomley Farran’ is a secret kind of flower, the kind you might talk to in the corner about your busy day while petting its silky smoothy (and sparkly!) petals. I think you can candy them, but do not quote me on that. This Dianthus is extremely rare and I have only seen it being sold at Annie’s Annuals in Richmond. I have found it to be relatively drought tolerant and it grows quickly. Though the flowers are not long lived, it is a perennial. Buy it because it has no other purpose then to bring you bliss.

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Plant of the Week: Gunnera Manicata

This one is a true in the time of dinosaurs plant. I saw it a few weeks ago in a Mendocino garden and I almost had a horticultural heart attack. The rough textured leaves were impressive and golden light shining through them on that afternoon pretty much rushed it to the top of my favorite plants I have ever seen list. The leaves are able to grow up to 4 feet in diameter and the rough textured leaves, spiky skin, and protruding panicles (the flowers)  give it a distinctive and sturdy feel.

Gunnera Manicata can be found of the Island of Arran in Scotland. It is said that the locals pick the giant leaves and use them for umbrellas the night before the highland games! If you would like to have your own shady magical hiding space I highly recommend this plant, just make sure you have enough space, the one I experienced was a massive plant and over 8 feet tall. They also prefer damp conditions, so they are often seen residing by ponds.

Plant of the Week: Mimulus Aurantiacus

If you wander the hills of California you might find this simple little beauty growing everywhere. They often remind me of little screaming orangish children. Which, is very fitting because, Mimulus, stands for “little mime or comic actor”, a reaction to the face like corolla of the plant. Mimulus not only adds a special splash of color to your wanderings they are also functional!

How you ask?

This native plant was used by the Costal Miwok, the crushed leaves were put on to sores and burns. The roots were also used to treat a variety of maladies such as dysentry and hemmorhanges. The Pomo even used them to treat bloodshot eyes from smoky dwellings! (I once slept in a teepee with a fire, and I know exactly what this means.) They are also a wonderful addition to any lazy gardeners abode as they are drought tolerant and grow in all types of soils, including the most difficult. Best of all they are also a host plant to the checkerspot butterfly!