Foliage Friday: Ghost Plant

In honor of Halloween, today’s Foliage Friday is the Monotropa uniflora, aka ghost plant, corpse plant, or Indian pipe.

Image from: fs.fed.us

I’ve seen this plant while mushroom hunting in forests just outside of Seattle. It’s a little bizarre looking, and seems like it should be some kind of mushroom, but it’s not. It’s a plant – a vascular flowering plant (aka angiosperm). It has flower per stem (which is how it gets the moniker uniflora). Unlike most angiosperms, however, it lacks chlorophyll, which is why it looks ghostly white…. spooooOOOooooky….

Without chlorophyll, Monotropa uniflora obviously can’t photosynthesize, so how do they get their energy? They are a mycoheterotrophic plant – myco- means fungus and a heterotroph is an organism that can’t make it’s own food (humans are also heterotrophs, plants that photosynthesize are autotrophs.) Monotropa uniflora gets its energy from mushrooms.

Mycorrhizal fungi, which live in the soil near tree roots, get nutrients (primarily sugars) from trees, which in turn, get their energy from the sun via photosynthesis. In return, the fungi provide the trees with certain nutrients (like phosphorous) that the fungi harvest from the soil. This is a symbiotic relationship.

Image from: wikipedia

Monoflora unitropa also has a relationship with the mycorrhizal fungi, but rather than exchanging nutrients with the fungi, Monflora unitropa steals sugars, but doesn’t seem to give anything back. So rather than “ghost plant” or “corpse plant,” I think they deserve the name Vampire Plant…..

Just In Time….My Pumpkin!

The squash patch has been looking pretty sad lately, and the winter squash vine is essentially dead. The single winter squash growing has stopped changing color and the skin is pretty firm, so, just in time for Halloween…

I harvested my first (and only) pumpkin yesterday!

…errr…I mean, winter squash… It’s not really a pumpkin, it’s a seed from a volunteer squash from my dad’s garden, so it’s a twice crossed squash. A double mutt! I haven’t cut into it yet, so I have no idea what it will taste like.

If I can, I’m planning to continue the lineage by saving it’s seeds, planting them, and continuing to do this over the years to see how the squash changes over the years.

Overwintering Basil: Taking Basil Cuttings

It’s finally getting chilly here – 73 degrees! Brrrrr!

Kidding.

But really, it’s getting down to 49 degrees at night. Basil, I know, doesn’t like cold temperatures. We have both Thai basil and regular basil.

The Thai basil grew particularly well. I think it’s success is attributed to the fact that it was on the sunnier end of the bed.

This little basil plant below was one grown from a cutting from Dr. Kong.

I’m hoping I can keep some cuttings going through the winter, and plant them back out in the spring as soon as it warms up again.

Here are the cuttings I took:

I’ll keep them in a container with water and hope they root.

Mint Rust? Or Spider Mites?

The mint transplants that I got for Dr. Kong are growing well, but I’ve noticed the leaves are getting these white and black spots. What is it?

I had put Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Pierce on hold at the library a few months ago, and I, just recently, finally got my hands on it. It’s a very informative book, and I definitely recommend it for any Bay Area gardeners. So, as soon as I noticed the spots on my peppermint, I read her section on Mint. Under Pests and Diseases, the only pest or disease she discusses is rust. She says, “Peppermint is subject to rust, which does not change the flavor and rarely kills the plant, but disfigures the leaves with rust-colored spots.” Could my problem be mint rust?

Mint rust is a fungus that causes orange, yellow and black spots on the leaves of mint. When I do a google image search, I get pictures that look more like this:

Image: gardening.which.co.uk

Hmmmm…. that doesn’t seem quite right. Darn. Golden Gate Gardening doesn’t seem to have the answers in this case, but I still stand by my recommendation.

Further googling, led me to this:

Image from: entomology.ca.uky.edu

This isn’t a mint plant, but the damage sure looks like what I’ve got. It’s spider mites. They live on the underside of the plant and suck the sap from the leaves leaving pale yellow spots. Spider mites are incredibly small – 1/50th of an inch – and yellow/orange in color. You usually need a magnifying glass to see them properly, although some sources say you should be able to see their webs with the naked eye.

I tried looking for the spider mites with a magnifying glass by shaking the leaves onto a white sheet of paper. There was one yellow-ish bug (I think) that fell onto the paper, but it flew off before I could get a good look at it with the magnifying glass.

The treatment for spider mites is insecticidal soap or neem oil. I’m a little uncomfortable spraying one of those things on my mint leaves, even though they’re “organic” or “natural.” I eat the mint leaves without washing them and the thought of eating insecticidal soap is kind of gross. An alternative treatment is predatory mites. These are beneficial insects that will eat the spider mites and then die off. I am so intrigued by this.

If you agree or disagree with my mint diagnosis, let me know. Also, if you’ve used predatory mites (or other predatory insects to control and insect pest problem) let me know.

Foliage Friday: Malus domestica ‘Newtown Pippin’

Today’s Foliage Friday is more aptly titled a Fruit Friday, because the plant of the week is the Malus domestica, aka the apple tree. Specifically, I want to talk about a variety of Malus domestica called Newtown Pippin.

This is one of the apple varieties I harvested last weekend at the Village Harvest apple harvest. They also grow this variety in the Gamble Garden. The Newtown Pippin is possibly my favorite apple (along with McIntosh), but you can’t buy it in most grocery stores. Why not?


The Newtown Pippin, reportedly, comes from a chance seedling that sprouted up in place formerly known as Newtown in the state of New York. A “pip” is the seed of a fruit, and “pippin,” therefore, means an apple grown from seed. It is one of the first apple varieties commercially cultivated, dating back to the 1600s.

The Newtown Pippin is an all-around great apple. The trees are very productive. The fruit has a green/yellow skin color with russetting around the top. Some people think the russetting looks ugly, but I like it’s rustic quality. The apple also has a squatter, more ovoid shape than your typical apple. The flesh is crisp and firm (exactly how I like my apples), and the taste is not too sweet, not too tart. The fruit has a good storage life. It is great for eating fresh, and is good for making desserts, sauces, and cider. Rumor has it, Martinelli’s buys 85% of the Newtown Pippins grown in California to put in their sparkling cider.

Unfortunately for the Newtown Pippin, the Granny Smith apple came along with it’s shiny smooth green skin and rounder shape, and replaced the Newtown Pippin on most grocery store shelves. The Granny Smith apple is also a fine apple, but I think there should be room for both apple varieties. Get rid of the Red Delicious and the Galas. Blech. Bring back the Newtown Pippin!

Harvesting Apples In The World’s Salad Bowl

Last Saturday, I volunteered with Village Harvest again, at one of their apple harvests. This is actually the last apple harvest of the season.

The harvest was at a privately-owned orchard south of San Jose in Monterey County. Fun Fact: Monterey County is nicknamed “The World’s Salad Bowl” due to its large agriculture industry. On the way to the orchard, I drove past many farms growing various lettuces and brassicas, as well as other orchards of both apples and other kinds of fruits. I also drove through the city of Gilroy, CA, which is the Garlic Capital of the World. It really does smell of garlic – I could smell the garlic before I saw the signs. (Side note: Gilroy, CA hosts the Gilroy Garlic Festival which was cancelled this year, obviously, but is scheduled for July 23-25, 2021. Count me in! Apparently, you can get garlic ice cream there….I’m intrigued…)

On to the apple harvest:

The orchard was quite large – at least 100 trees, I’d estimate, if not more. There were four varieties of apples: Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Newtown Pippin, and Fuji. There had already been two harvests of this orchard earlier in the season, and two more had to be cancelled due to poor air quality from the fires. During the first two harvests, they picked 3,000-5,000 pounds of apples per harvest. Last Saturday, our goal was to finish harvesting the entire orchard, and to make up for the missed harvests. We were hoping to harvest at least 8,000 pounds of apples!

There were about 30 volunteers there that day. We started harvesting shortly after 9. The harvest was scheduled to go until 12:30, but the organizers told us to stop harvesting just before 12. There were still some apples on the trees, but we had filled the bins and then some. I don’t know what the final tally was, but it must have been close to 10,000 pounds of apples. The picture below was taken around 11am.

These apples were headed to the San Jose food bank.

And, of course, the volunteers got to take home apples that had touched the ground. I came home with two big bags of apples.

I made apple chutney from the Moosewood Cookbook with some of the apples (delicious! will definitely make again), and I’ll be having apple-oatmeal every morning for the foreseeable future. Yum yum!

The Gamble Garden in October

It was 91 degrees here yesterday… still definitely not fall here yet. Our nighttime temps are getting down into the 50s sometimes though, so I can kind of pretend it’s fall early in the morning. The Gamble Garden, which I visit on at least a weekly basis, is changing slightly with the seasons. The last Gamble Garden tour I did was back in July. Now in October…

The zinnias have petered out, but dahlias have more than made up for them:

A row of mums is starting to bloom:

Japanese anemones (one of my favorite!) and cosmos are in bloom:

A row of asters were planted where the zinnias used to be, but there’s nothing much to see yet, so I didn’t take a picture of them.

The squash are nearly done. Here are some really stretched-out-butternut-esque ones growing on this arbor:

Most of the pumpkins have already been pulled and replaced with fall crops like beets.

The apples are over, but the citrus are starting to mature. This is a navel orange, I believe:

I enjoy seeing how things change in the garden and what new things are growing each time I visit. I’m so lucky to have such a great garden nearby.

Foliage Friday: California Native Sage Bushes

If I see a plant I don’t know in California, there’s a 50/50 chance it’s a Salvia.

I took a walk through McClellan Nature Reserve in Cupertino last weekend, and saw this plant:

The seed pods are quite interesting to me, and it has a smell that reminds me of sunscreen….

What is it?

If you guessed Salvia, you’d be correct! My best guess is that it is a Salvia leucophylla, aka purple sage bush

Salvia leucophylla is named for the white colored (/grayish-silvery) leaves (leuco– or leuko– is white). There’s actually a word to describe those whitish fuzzy-looking leaves: tomentose. Purple sage is very aromatic and flowers from early spring through early summer with light purple flowers that provide food for pollinators (bees and hummingbirds).

Salvia leucophylla is one of many native California sages, including White sage (Salvia apiana, which is what smudge sticks are made out of), Black sage (Salvia mellifera), Sweet or Musk sage (Salvia clevelandii)… and on and on. These sages are found on dry slopes along the coast. They like a lot of sun, and are very drought tolerant – perfect for California! They also burn very easily, though…. yikes.

I learned a little about the genus Salvia back when I learned about Salvia amistad, which is not a California native. This website goes into much more detail about California native sages, in particular, with plenty of photos. The flowering heads are definitely distinctive. I find the bushes, overall, to be a bit too scraggly for my tastes, but at least I’ll be able to recognize them the next time I see them.

One of my plums sprouted!

Do you remember the mariposa plums? I saved the seeds and put them in a wet paper towel to see if I could get any of them to germinate.

Well, one of them seems to be doing something…

It’s a bit odd looking, and the discoloration still the right end there make me a little nervous that something a wrong with it, but nonetheless, I put it in a small pot of soil, and to see if anything would come up.

Well, would you look at this:

Ok, it’s kind of hard to tell from the photo, but there is a tiny sprout coming up. This photo was taken yesterday, only four days after I planted the plum seed. I’m optimistic that I’ll have a small mariposa plum tree soon.