Succulent Plant Safety Tips

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Everybody in garden design is talking agaves. Retro modern folks are digging golden barrel cactus. We’re even seeing fire stick euphorbia in pots of mixed perennials. While these new ventures into old succulents are revitalizing the aesthetic of our gardens, there are some key concerns for safety among these often prickly plants.   Succulents have the market cornered on thorns and spines. Agaves produce large rosettes of leaves, each blade tipped with a wickedly sharp thorn. Smaller agaves are leg scratchers extraordinaire that will easily mar your summer tanned thigh with scratches. Larger agaves are most dangerous because their tips sit at arm or head level.   Rather than say good bye to your agaves, you can give them a trim to render the spines far less brutal without spoiling their look. Use very sharp shears or clippers to carefully nip the sharp off the end of each leaf. Cut only the fingernail-hard part, not the softer succulent flesh. Once done these will not grow back, but you may have to trim again when new leaves mature.   If you’re planning to get into cacti this year, be advised that all are not created equal.  The ever popular golden barrel with its bright yellow spines is among the most painful.  They seem to cause more irritation to the skin than other barrel species.  Avoid  placing golden barrels near active outdoor living spaces, or where kids and pets play. The prickly pear, or what most folks call paddle cactus is among the largest and most common types of cultivated cactus.  They root virtually anywhere and withstand the most brutal heat and drought.  These cacti bear large sharp spines that are readily visible.  But around the base of the big spines are near microscopic hair-like glochids.  These look like benign soft fuzz but are by far the most devastating.  Once they enter the skin these are nearly impossible to remove. Some cacti experts ban prickly pear from gardens because merely brushing against one can cause pain and dermatitis.  Even gloves are not immune.  Gloves can become infested with glochids, inadvertently introducing them into pockets and shoes.  Particularly beware of the Mickey Mouse or Teddy bear types because their quaint looks mask a brutal nature.  The bright red and very sweet prickly pear fruit can be attractive to dogs, leaving them with a mouth full of glochids as well.Firesticks, the darlings of florists and high end nurseries are red tinted varieties of the pencil tree euphorbia.  The euphorbia plant contains a caustic white latex sap, and pencil tree is one of the most toxic species.  Merely brush against it and the milk starts to flow.  Recently a friend’s husband pruned a large pencil tree and was careful to wash hands and face after the job.  But he didn’t change his tee shirt which was covered with latex splatter.  That night he took his shirt off, it rubbed it against his face and the toxic sap entered his eye.  That fellow spent the evening in the
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Rose Hip Jam and Holiday Decor Via Free eBook


Celebrate a natural holiday season with decorations from your garden and the wild places near home.  Cook up a fresh batch of rose hip jam as the fruit ripens this fall.           Gather twigs to create rustic wreaths to decorate.                 Cut long runners of run-away vines to tie into garlands.             Harvest your herbs before frost to hang and dry for holiday gifts.                      It’s all in the MoPlants free eBook: Holiday Decorating Ideas from the Crafter’s Garden Download your free copy at  

Horticultural Speaker Informs and Entertains Garden Events


The art of entertaining education should apply to the horticultural world as it does elsewhere.  The problem is that plant people aren’t often good communicators, and they struggle to share their life long knowledge with others.  This lack of good presentation is matched by TV garden show “talking head” hosts who can read a teleprompter but have little real world horticultural knowledge or experience.  While name recognition from television may help an event’s notoriety, it does little for the audience which must sit through a rambling talk.  I have always made it a goal to give my audiences tangible ideas and tips they can take home and use.  This is what a speaker is paid for – to give all he or she can to those who take the time to attend an event.  But in the process of delivering real information you must make it fun, personal and interesting too.  Overly scripted talks are just that…scripted.  Those lacking drop dead gorgeous visuals are reduced to a dry speech. When you want your visitors or attendees to share a lasting experience, the right speaker, topic and delivery style are essential. As garden events are being planned for next spring, consider a qualified, professional speaker who can bring quality content to your audience.  With lavish PowerPoint photography and a broad range of topics from minimalist modern to lush romantic cottage gardens, my photo archive will wow the viewers. More practical presentations to fire or flood ravaged communities add civic benefit as does a strong landscape architectural approach to community-wide green living and design. Whether you are planning a garden show, a community day or selecting specific educators to create topics for your institution, consider our services.  I am accepting dates for the 2008 garden season and will be happy to create a specialized program for your audience, event, company or charity.  With experience, national reputation and an immense photo archive, there’s no reason to settle for a talking head or a dull horti-holic when you can inform and entertain in glorious color. Contact:  Mo Gilmer (760) 320-6753 Recent speaking engagements: Garden show judge: Northwest Garden Show, Seattle, 2007 Independent Garden Center Show, (trade) Chicago 2007 Portland Garden Show, Portland 2007 Boise Garden Show, Idaho, 2007 San Francisco Garden Show 2006    

Cycads For Hot Zone Gardens

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They can be found in the fossil record of virtually every continent on earth, changing little in the past 200 million years.  They came to prominence in the Mesozoic, a period known as the age of cycads and dinosaurs.  Plants known as “the cycads” are true living fossils that make fabulous garden plants.  Though they may appear fragile, most prove both beautiful and remarkably resilient.    Cycads bear a visual similarity to ferns and even enjoy the same sheltered locations, but are as tough as desert palms.  Cycad foliage may appear soft, but it’s actually quite thick and bears a tough outer cuticle that prevents moisture loss.  In hot climates, whether humid or dry, cycads in all their diversity provide the perfect care-free alternative to finicky ferns.  Their large lush looks create beautiful backgrounds or single specimens.     A tall Dioon spinulosum and unusual round leaf Zamia furfuracea illustrate the lush looks of cycads in a tropical setting. Although they look like palms, cycads are more closely related to conifers, a group which includes pine trees. Conifers are mostly needled evergreens that bear their seed in cones.  So while a cycad may look like a palm, it reproduces like a pine, with its seed in central cones produced at the very center of the plant.  Cycads can be male or female, and each type will produce either a pollen bearing or seed bearing cone.  The male cone of the most commonly grown species, Cycas revoluta, which bears pollen. The female cone of Cycas revoluta begins as a central pineapple-like form, then once pollinated and red seeds mature the cone splits and a new whorl of foliage appears out the middle. Cycads are very slow growing plants.  This makes them quite expensive to buy.  A large specimen can take up to a decade to reach its size, and you pay for those years of care at the grower.  Some cycads such as blue leaf Encephalartos lehmannii are rarely grown, and may cost double that of other species because of its scarcity.  But for gardens in challenging climates, these problem solvers contribute a unique, lush and exotic character.  And their very existence around the world attests to a remarkable ability to survive the rigors of change,

A Curandera’s Garden of Mexican Folk Herbs

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In the 15th century Florentine Codex of Aztec physicians, the healer is “well versed in herbs, who knows, through experience the roots, the trees, the stones.  She keeps her secrets and traditions.”  The healer is clearly female.  But where the Codex covers Aztec physician, the text indicates this role applies to the male gender.     Today the role of healer or “curandera” still exists in Hispanic culture.  It is not uncommon for a Mexican to consult a curandera for spiritual healing while under a medical doctor’s care.  For the very poor with no access to modern medicine, the curandera serves both roles blending the art of healing the mind with the administration of botanical medicines.     In the Mexican neighborhoods of most Southwestern cities you’ll find botanicas, which are herb stores that carry dried traditional plant cures of the curandera’s trade.  If she is fortunate enough to have a plot of land, the curandera would tend a garden of useful plants for her own fresh harvest.     Some of these plants are quite toxic poisons, but in her training she learned the proper dosage and preparation.  Many, such as morning glory and peyote would be divination plants handed down to her from the Aztec Nahuatl traditions.  The most common of these potent medicines is called tlapatl in Nahuatl or toloache in Spanish.  It is the wild datura of the desert and Mexico.  This nightshade contains serious medicine and may be the single most powerful plant in this garden.      The curandera’s garden would also contain New World natives and some European herbs introduced by the Spanish early on.   Maguey agave is perhaps the most ubiquitous plant in Mexico due to its use in the fermentation of an alcoholic beverage known as pulque.  Its fiber is utilized for everything from scrub brushes to weaving cloth.  The agave leaf was scraped and boiled to treat assorted venereal diseases   The many benefits of nopal or prickly pear, Opuntia ficus indica, are just now coming to light in the alternative medicine community.  Flat paddle-shaped stems of this plant are chopped and simmered down to a potent brew.  It is the main component of treating maladies of the heart such as angina and edema.  The mix is drunk on a daily basis as a preventative.    The many forms of sagebrush, genus Artemisia is known as ajenjo.  It includes both native and European species that are all strongly bitter and potentially toxic.  The herbs have been used in the Old World and the New to treat intestinal parasites.  It’s also a powerful antibacterial for treating infected wounds.  Some very long-lived woody shrubs also fall into this curandera garden pharmacoepia.  Bushy apache plume, Fallugia paradoxa, is a desert shrub known as ponil.  Aspirin-like qualities are found in its inner bark, much like that of aspen and willow.  A strong tea of the root and bark is also used for hair loss treatment.   Bright red Ocotillo blossoms from the woody Foqueria splendens are boiled, and
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Get Your Garden Foxgloves Planted Early

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Few spring flowers rival foxgloves for color and majestic impact.  But only if you buy big plants and get them in the ground early will you share in their fabulous beauty.   Foxglove are actually biennials, just like hollyhocks.  That means that the first year from seed they have a disappointing bloom.  The foxgloves need that first year to grow strong roots underground to support the magnificent blooms to come the following spring.  When you shop for foxgloves this spring knowing they are best in the second year, look for well established one gallon container sized specimen plants.  This container size ensures you’re getting those in the peak of their life cycle ready to put up the towers of tubular blossoms that make foxglove so beloved.  It’s important to know that medicinal herbs have long been used in the English countryside to treat cardiac edema, a killing condition for which the doctors had no remedy.  Yet wise folk healers using recipes handed down from mother to daughter could relieve the symptoms. Finally the active ingredient in these recipes was isolated, it was the foxglove.  That is why the genus name for foxglove, Digitalis, is also the name of one of the most important cardiac drugs of the 20th century.  Keep in mind that this plant is potent and toxic to both pets and children, illustrating the fine line between what cures and what kills.  

Ordinary Plant Becomes A Rare Monster Naturally

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It’s unknown why a ordinary agave plant in the California desert grew into the world’s largest monster, naturally!  The phenomenon known as “cresting” or monstrose growth is a genetic anomaly of succulents that mystifies scientists.  This, my friends, is the kind of thing that keeps me forever fascinated with horticulture. An ordinary Agave geminiflora blooms with a tall narrow purple spike from its rosette of needle sharp bayonet-like leaves.  But something happened to a single individual that turned the slender stalk into a monstrous growth.  No one knows what initiates the change but it is known that the effect is genetic, because cuttings taken from monstrose cacti will retain the monstrose quality in the newly rooted plant.  But then again we have seen monstrose growth come and go without cause as well. The phenomenon turns a single growth point into many, allowing growth to occur in multiple directions simultaneously.  This results in forms that bear no resemblance to its plant of origin.   Mo’s once-in-a-lifetime experience, to see and touch such an extraordinarily monstrose plant. This monstrose agave shows a stem that produced so many contiguous or fused growth points deep inside  that it nearly broke it apart to emerge from the center.  The growth points fanned out into an incredibly thick trunk.  This never before seen twisted, fanned out stalk will bear few if any flowers.  This up-close view of the flesh of the stalk and its widening at the top shows how the multiple growth points are flattening out into a thinner crest.  The hair like structures would have been flowers on a normal plant.  The collecting of crested and monstrose cacti is big business in the succulent world.  Plant Geeks read more about succulent and cacti cresting here: