10 Ways of Keeping Birds Safe From Your Cat

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In most urban and suburban environments, cats are the main predators of songbirds. Source: www.peakpx.com

Isn’t it wonderful to hear the chirping of birds in your garden, watch them feast on the seeds you put in the feeder and see them splashing about in the bath you put out! Many gardeners put a lot of effort—from installing bird feeders and bird baths to planting fruit-bearing plants they like to eat—to attract birds to their little piece of heaven … but it makes no sense to draw birds into your yard only to see them slaughtered by your beloved pussycat! If you want to attract birds, you have to find some way to make sure your cat doesn’t kill them.

This is not just a minor problem, by the way. It’s very, very serious. Did you know that cats kill about 3.7 billion birds annually in North America (yes, billions) and probably just as many in Europe?

Cat predation is now the leading cause in the decline of one in three North American songbirds. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature holds cats specifically responsible for the extinction of 33 species of birds, reptiles and mammals worldwide. And the Audubon Society blames them for the extinction of 11 species of birds in North America alone.

Cats roaming freely in search of birds is therefore not a minor problem, but something more like an ecological disaster … and maybe your kitty is part of the problem.

But It’s the Law of Nature!

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The number of cats in many regions far exceeds normal limits and this severely impacts bird populations. Source: www.necoichi.com

True enough, some people argue that it’s only normal for cats to hunt birds, that they’re just following the law of nature. But there’s nothing normal about the huge number of birds cats harvest. The whole balance of nature is totally skewed. The number of cats, especially in urban and suburban areas, is far higher than it would be in any natural environment.

In a typical predator versus prey situation in Africa or Eurasia, where the wildcat ancestor (Felis silvestris) of our domestic tabby (Felis silvestris catus) still roams freely, there is only about one cat per square kilometer, compared to about 10 to 15 cats per square kilometer in the suburbs and up to 800 cats per square kilometer (I’m not exaggerating!) in some cities. If domestic cats were as scarce as wildcats, the damage would be much lower and probably considered quite acceptable.

Moreover, cats are not native to many parts of the world, notably the New World and Australia plus islands everywhere. They were introduced there. There is nothing “natural” about the predation of cats in those regions!

Almost everywhere domestic cats are found, over-predation is severe and it’s birds (and also small mammals) who pay the price for this overabundance of voracious felines.

What Can You Do?

If you own one or more cats, here’s what you can do to protect the birds in your immediate environment.

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Indoor cats live longer and healthier lives than outdoor ones. Source: www.henriska.com

  1. Keep Kitty indoors. Don’t try to claim it’s impossible: millions of cat owners do it! In fact, it’s one of the main selling points of cats compared to dogs: you don’t have to let them out! Moreover, “indoor cats” live longer and healthier lives than cats that are let out, so you can’t claim you’re doing them a favor by letting them run free.
  2. If you feel you have to let pussy out occasionally, do it in the middle of the day. Birds—especially young ones learning to fly—are at their most active about an hour after dawn and about one hour before dusk … when lower light means birds can’t see their predator as clearly.
  3. Feed your cat well. Even a well-nourished cat will probably still hunt (cats hunt at least as much out of instinct as out of a need for food), but a full belly will calm some cats down and slow their movements.
  4. Tie it to a cord when you let it out … and not an overly long one. That way, Puss can enjoy the outdoors without being able to reach any birds.

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    Belling a cat is certainly not a new idea, but if it works…! Jamesington, Wikimedia Commons

  5. Put a bell around its neck. Or several bells. Attach it or them to an elastic or quick-release cat collar (one that detaches rapidly if ever the collar becomes stuck). This has been shown to reduce cat predation by about 40%, although some very talented cats learn to hunt without ringing the bell. It’s best to put the bell on when it goes out and to remove it when it comes back in to reduce any habituation.

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    Birdsbesafe collars are colorful and make cats more visible to their prey. Source: www.10000birds.com

  6. Outfit Puss with a bird-warning cat collar, like an Elizabethan collar, but much more colorful. You’ll find them in pet shops or you can order them on-line from the manufacturer Birdsbesafe. The bright colors of the collar make the cat more visible during the day and there is even reflective tape on the margin so it will be effective on a moonlit night too. It’s apparently very efficient, reducing predation by 49% to 87% according to different studies.

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    Did you see the puddy tat? With that colorful cat bib, birds will too! Source: http://www.amazon.co.uk

  7. Install a CatBib. It’s made of lightweight neoprene and you attach it to your cat’s collar. It serves as a barrier between Puss and its prey, blocking and deflecting its paw when it tries to strike, thus giving the bird time to get away. Also, it’s brightly colored and bears reflective markings, making the cat’s approach more visible to birds. The manufacturer claims it reduces predation by 81%.
    A certain percentage of felines nevertheless manage to hunt successfully even with a bib around their neck. If so, there is a larger model, said to be 98% effective.
    It may take a while for your cat to get used to wearing such a bib, but most do so in less than 24 hours.
    Curiously, wearing a bib also seems to reduce fighting between cats.

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    Cats can jump to several times their own height, so birds are only safe when the feeder is well off the ground. Source: http://www.awaazmag.com

  8. When you install a bird feeder, put it on a support at least 8 feet (2.5 m) above the ground, as that’s higher than most cats can jump. Also, install a seed catcher under the feeder to trap seeds that would otherwise land on the ground: birds feeding on the ground are in extreme danger of Sudden Cat Death Syndrome (SCuDS).
  9. Have Pussy neutered. Animal shelters are full of kittens nobody wants and stray cats are legion. Be aware that, while a house cat allowed outdoors tends to kill about 5 and 10 birds a year, stray cats catch between 30 and 50 each year: a total massacre. Do you really want to play a part in supplying more future stray cats to this ecological disaster?
  10. Finally, if possible, contribute financially to local animal shelters so that they can continue to help control the stray animal population.

That’s a lot to think of before letting your cat out … but if you want to invite birds into your yard next summer, it will certainly be worthwhile put some of them into practice.20180121A www.peakpx.com


Protecting Trees and Shrubs From Road Salt Spray

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Salt spray damage to pines. This can be avoided by planting salt-resistant plants in from of them to trap the spray. Source: cdn.greenhousemegastore.com

With this extra-cold winter, even gardens in warmer parts of North America are facing road salt spray damage. This is caused by very fine droplets of salty water given off by vehicles driving along a road treated with deicing products. The faster the vehicles drive in the sector, the further the salt spray penetrates onto neighboring properties.

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Witch’s brooms caused by salt spray damage are common on trees growing near roads treated with de-icing salt. Source: infamousginger.wordpress.com

This kind of spray does not necessarily contaminate the soil (that kind of damage mostly occurs within a foot or so of the road, where particles of rock salt are deposed and that’s a different story entirely), but instead harms plants well back from the road, sometimes up to 30 feet (9 m). Damage includes reddened, dying needles on conifers, burned or scorched leaves on broadleaf evergreens and bud death and twig dieback on deciduous trees and shrubs, followed by witches-bloom growths in the summer when the plant tries to recuperate.

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Wrapping didn’t protect these arborvitae (Thuya occidentalis) from damage: the salt spray soaked through and burned the foliage on the side nearest to the road. Source: sk.extension.org

Many hard-working gardeners bundle up susceptible trees and shrubs with burlap or other winter protection products to catch the spray. However not only is this a lot of work, but it becomes nearly impossible to continue to carry out as the plants increase in size, especially trees. Besides, wrapping is only effective if salt spray is very light. Where it is heavy, it will soak through the covering and kill the needles and buds just underneath.

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Salt spray readily condenses on shrubs with multiple branches or thorns like this rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa), also known, very aptly, as salt spray rose. Source: florafinder.org

To avoid such damage, plant shrubs and trees that are resistant to salt spray between the road and sensitive plants so they can act as a filter. Especially consider species with abundant twigs or branches, as such as rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa), Siberian peashrub (Caragana arborescens), and shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa), as the salt will condense even more readily on the branches of these resistant plants, thus better protecting the plantings in the background.

Or simply avoid planting sensitive woody plants anywhere near a busy road and use deciduous perennials instead. Since these plants lose their aerial parts in the fall, leaving no living stems or leaves on which salt spray can condense, they are indifferent to this kind of damage.20180120A cdn.greenhousemegastore.com

Plants With Weird Foliage: Window Plants

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Frithia pulchra, sometimes called baby toes, is one of many curious window plants. Source: venanaturale

Here is another article about plants with truly startling and unusual foliage, a short series I intend to add to from time to time. This article therefore follows Five Plants With Weird Foliage, Four Other Plants With Weird Foliage and Plants With Weird Foliage: Perfoliation. Just click on the links if you ever want to re-read them.

How Leaves Function… Normally!

Although there are nearly 400,000 species of plants on our planet, most have leaves with exactly the same structure. First, there is a dark green upper surface. Its color comes from chloroplasts, the green cells that convert sunlight into energy and are located just below the leaf’s upper surface. The underside of the leaf, though, has few chloroplasts and is therefore a paler green. This organization is very logical, because the plant’s goal is to capture a maximum of solar energy and the sun is located above the plant, not below. Even the way most leaves are held on the plant, that is, horizontally, is designed so they can absorb all the solar energy possible.

When the Sun Is Too Intense

So much for a typical leaf! But some plants, especially those of arid climate plants, face a rather unusual situation. The sun where they grow is so intense it can burn the leaves. Also, they can’t possibly absorb all the energy it produces. Most plants living under arid conditions have had to find some way of protecting themselves from the sun’s excesses.

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Many plants that grow in the extreme sun of arid climates, like this panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa), have leaves covered with protective hair or wax: Mother Nature’s sunscreen. Source: www.gardenia.net

These plants have different strategies to get around an overly intense sun. Sometimes the leaves are covered with wax or hair that reflects rather than absorbs light, sometimes the plant sacrifices its leaves entirely and photosynthesizes through its green stems (cacti are good examples of this) and sometimes the plant gives up entirely, losing its leaves and retreating into dormancy, often underground, during the hot season. But of all the adaptations to an overbearing sun, window plants have come up with the most fascinating adaptation.

Nature’s Skylight

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Most window plants, like this Lithops, grow nearly buried, with only the leaf tip showing. Sunlight penetrates the window and can easily reach the chloroplasts located all round the inside surface of the leaf. C.T. Johansson, Wikimedia Commons & cliparting.com

Most window plants pull themselves down into the ground during the summer, leaving only the tip of their leaves exposed. And this exposed part is not green, although it may look that way at first, but rather translucent, like a window. Thus, the intense and burning light penetrates through the tip of the leaf, but is then diffused by the gelatinous translucent sap inside and redirected to the chloroplasts which are located inside the leaf, near the outer walls, and therefore literally underground. It’s all rather like a skylight. The transparent leaf tip of window plants is rarely sharply pointed, as that could lead to water loss. It is rather truncated or rounded, as that reduces the surface exposed to drying winds.

This ingenious adaptation, which botanists call a leaf window, an epidermal window or fenestration, has evolved not once, but several times in different families. The best-known window plants are the living stones of the Aizoaceae family, a group which, broadly viewed, can be said to include Lithops, Fenestraria, Frithia, Ophthalmophyllum, Conophytum and several other genera. However, there are window plants in other families, including the Asphodelaceae, Asteraceae and Piperaceae families.

Curiously, the vast majority of window plants come from the same region: the deserts of southern Africa. What is not clear, though, is why. What is so special about the conditions in this region that stimulates plants to develop—independently!—a window rather than or in addition to other methods of surviving drought used by plants in other desert climates, such as succulence, summer dormancy, reduction of stomata and others? I’m sure someday botanists will find an explanation.

The Mother of All Window Plants

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Fenestraria rhopalophylla: the windows look like contact lenses!  Stan Shebs, W

The most windowlike of the window plants is undoubtedly Fenestraria rhopalophylla, in the Aizoaceae family. In fact, it is often simply called “window plant” in English (baby toes is the other common name) … and that’s also the meaning of its botanical name Fenestraria. This plant forms a rosette of upright pale gray-green tubular leaves, each capped with a rounded and completely translucent tip: it looks like it was wearing a contact lens!

In nature, only the translucent tip is visible, the rest of the plant remaining buried. When grown as a houseplant, we like to expose more of the leaf, partly to highlight the plant’s curious form, but mostly because it’s hard to imitate the intense drought and dry heat of its native country in our homes: if we bury the leaves the way they grow in the wild and the soil around them remains the slightest bit moist, the poor plant tends to rot.


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The other baby toes, Frithia pulchra, has leaves more truncated than rounded. Source: C. T. Johansson, Wikipedia Commons

Frithia pulchra, also in the Aizoaceae, is very similar, with the same tubular leaves and rosette growth, but this time the ends appear truncated rather than rounded. And the flowers are pink rather than white or yellow (the case with Fenestraria). This plant too is commonly called window plant or baby toes.


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Living stones grow nearly buried in the soil. The upper surface of the leaf is marbled with a mix of translucent and opaque patches, making it look like a stone or rock. Colors vary widely, according to that of the surrounding rocks. Source: Rudolf Marloth, Wikimedia Commons

The plants most often referred to as living stones are in the genus Lithops (Aizoaceae) and all have windows, but they are not as apparent as those of Fenestraria or Frithia because the window is marbled with paler opaque patches that mimic the coloration of the neighboring rocks.

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Lithops come in a wide range of colours. The darker patches are translucent windows, the paler ones, opaque tissues serving as camouflage. Source: worldofsucculents.com

Each living stone (and there are dozens of species) consists of two succulent half-moon leaves pressed against each other, plus a few roots. The leaves can be green, gray or even reddish.

Among other living stone genera that include species with windows are Conophytum and Ophthalmophyllum.

Mini Aloes

The genus Haworthia is closely related to the better-known genus to Aloe (both belong to the Asphodelaceae family) and indeed, most species look much like small aloes, with succulent leaves, a rosette growth habit and sharply pointed leaves.

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Haworthia cymbiformis obtusa has very striking windows.  Source: 賴永聰, pinterest.

Species with windows, such H. cymbiformis and H. retusa, sometimes called cathedral window haworthias, are different. They have leaves with a more rounded, translucent tip and in nature, live essentially underground with only that part of the leaf exposed.

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Haworthia truncata: the flat upper surface of the leaf is a window. Source: Stan Shebs, Wikimedia Commons

The most extreme window haworthia is H. truncata, sometimes called horse’s teeth. The end of each leaf is “truncate,” as per the species epithet truncata, meaning it looks like it has been cut off … with a saw. The leaf tip appears dark green, but is, in fact, translucent. This species usually grows in a fan shape rather than the more typical rosette common to haworthias. It’s a distinctly odd-looking plant!

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Most unusual and rarely grown, Bulbine haworthioides bares ground-hugging leaves with numerous translucent windows. Source: Jeffs-bulbesetpots, picssr.com

Another genus of the family Asphodelaceae, Bulbine, also produces a few window plants (notably B. haworthioides and B. mesembryanthemoides). Their succulent leaves form an entirely flattened, ground-hugging rosette marked with translucent patches. Curiously, many other bulbines have fairly ordinary succulent leaves, much like an aloe, and others have deciduous grasslike leaves and underground bulbs or tubers. They spend the dry season safely underground, fully dormant.

Cat’s Eyes

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Only when the leaves are backlit are you likely to notice the narrow windows on Senecio rowleyanus. Source: Green Lady, YouTube

String of pearls or rosary plant (Senecio rowleyanus), a popular houseplant in the Asteraceae (sunflower) family, is also a window plant, but its window is rather discreet. Its small leaves, almost as round as a pearl with just a small pointed tip, are medium green … but this is not the part of the leaf that carries out photosynthesis. If you look closely, you’ll see that each leaf has what looks like a darker green ray like a cat’s eye, but which is, in fact, transparent. It’s through this slit that the light penetrates the leaf and reaches the photosynthetic cells on its inner periphery.

This window often goes unnoticed and many people grow this fairly common succulent without realizing how truly extraordinary it is. The window is best noticed when the plant is backlit by sunlight and it then appears yellowish green and distinctly more translucent.

Unlike other window plants seen so far, string of pearls does not grow half-buried, but usually completely exposed. The rounded leaves are borne on long, thin, creeping or trailing stems and it grows as a groundcover in the wilds of southern Africa, its stems rooting where they touch soil. As a houseplant, it’s most often grown in hanging baskets as a trailing plant.

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You can barely make out the window on the banana-like leaves of  Senecio radicans. Source: mountaincrestgardens.com

The chain of bananas (S. radicans) is similar in habit, but, as the name suggests, its more elongated leaves look somewhat like bananas. String of beads (S. herreianus) fits in between the two. Its succulent leaves are somewhat rounded, yet more pointed than S. rowleyanus. Both have the same kind of very narrow slit-like window.

A Leaf in Prayer

The window plants we’ve seen so far all evolved independently in southern Africa, but there is one major exception.

In the vast genus Peperomia of the family Piperaceae, with over 1500 species distributed throughout the tropics, there is a handful of species of window plants, all from Peru and Ecuador. The logic behind their fenestration is not so clear as with the African succulents, because these peperomias don’t live in a desert environment, but rather in tropical forests, often as epiphytes. But they are succulents, with thick leaves that store water, something that can be useful to an epiphytic plant, given it has no soil to protect its roots from dehydration and is constantly exposed to drying winds.

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The leaves of the prayer peperomia (Peperomia dolabriformis) seem to be folded in half. The dark green streak on top of each one is the window. Source: plantsam.com

What is fascinating with the best known of these window plants, the prayer peperomia (P. dolabriformis, whose specific name means “shaped like a doloire”, a kind of axe) is that it seems to have been caught midway through its evolution, as if it weren’t quite finished. Just looking at the strange leaf, you can easily see that what was originally an ordinary elliptical and flat leaf has folded upward and inward, like a praying hand (the origin of the common name prayer peperomia) as if to protect its upper surface. What was originally the paler green back of the leaf is now borne upright with a slightly depressed window now separating the two halves. The window looks dark green, but is actually transparent and sunlight can travel through it to the chloroplasts lining the inside of the leaf.

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Peperomia graveolens. Source: public.fotki.com

There are other peperomias with a similar habit. This group includes P. nivalis and the very interesting P. graveolens, where the outside of the leaf is red and thus contrasts strikingly with the green window in the center.

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The narrow leaves of Peperomia ferreyrae don’t display their window too readily, but you can seem them if you look carefully. Source: Succulents.us

P. ferreyrae, with narrow, pointed, scimitar-like succulent leaves, seems to have evolved further than the others, because you no longer notice the effect of a leaf folded in half. Its windows are present, but quite discreet.

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Peperomia columella. Source: worldofsucculents.com

Finally, the most bizarre of all the window peperomias is undoubtedly the columnar peperomia (P. columella), a short, upright plant whose small, stubby, very succulent leaves look like they were chopped off at the tip.

The window plants are truly fascinating … and many of them make attractive, easy-to-grow, thought-provoking houseplants. Place a window plant in front of your window today!20180119C Eng C.T. Johansson, Wikimedia Commons & cliparting.com.jpg

No Need to Let Chlorine Evaporate

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No need to let water rest 24 hours before you water your houseplants. Source: adish.info, Emily Curtis, clipground.com, moziru.com

One popular myth about houseplants is that you have let tap water rest for 24 hours before use to prevent damages caused by the chlorine it contains. But this is a waste of time for two reasons.

First, there is not enough chlorine in tap water to affect most plants. Water from the tap, preferably tepid water, suits them perfectly. That’s good, too, because with some 300 indoor plants to water, I would have to leave at least 75 watering cans out the day before watering! It is also worth noting that chlorine is one of the minor elements that plants require for good growth. So they actually need a small amount of chlorine.

Secondly, letting tap water sit overnight will not reduce the quantity of chlorine it contains. That’s because few municipalities still use volatile chlorine to treat their water. That technique was popular into the 1990s, but has largely been replaced by chloramine treatments (chloramine is a compound containing chlorine). Chloramine, unlike chlorine, does not evaporate when you let water sit out, at least, not to many great degree. That’s why municipalities use it: its antimicrobial effect is much more durable than that of volatile chlorine.

In fact, letting the water sit out will often concentrate the level of chloramine in the water … although only very slightly.

Problem solved, right? Not so fast!

Extra-Sensitive Plants

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Some plants, like this Dracaena, are subject to leaf tip burn caused mostly by dry air, drought stress and mineral buildup in the soil. Excess chlorine is only a minor factor. Source: owtdoor.com

OK, letting water sit overnight doesn’t allow chloramine to evaporate, but still, some plants are sensitive to the chlorine compounds in tap water, including chloramine. This includes dracaenas (Dracaena), ti plants (Cordyline), spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum), prayer plants (Maranta), calatheas (Calathea) and carnivorous plants. If these plants are watered with heavily chlorinated water, it can cause the tips of the leaves to die and turn black. What can you go about that?

It’s important to note, though, that chlorinated water is only one of the causes of black leaf tips: dry air, drought stress, and excess fertilizer also “burn” the leaves of these plants, and in fact damage due to chlorinated water is a fairly minor factor. So you can’t just blame the tap water…

In an ideal world, you wouldn’t water these plants with tap water at all, but instead use rainwater or distilled water. That would solve the chloramine problem, but rainwater can be hard to come by and is often inconvenient, while distilled water is expensive. Again, letting the water sit overnight is of no help whatsoever.

The Easy Way Out

Here’s what I do: I water plants subject to black tips (except carnivorous plants, which aren’t “regular houseplants” and need special care in so many ways that you really have to treat them separately anyway) with regular tap water along with all my other houseplants and have learned to just put up with the occasional blackened leaf tip. I’ve also learned that if I keep the air fairly humid, leach these plants occasionally to remove excess mineral salts in their potting mix, and don’t stress them with underwatering, there is very little leaf tip damage anyway. Only the very tippy tip of some leaves dies back a bit.

Essentially, I just apply the Laidback Gardener’s “15 Pace Rule.” Back up 15 steps and if you can’t see the problem, it’s not one worth getting upset about. That’s certainly the case here!20180118A adish.info, Emily Curtis, clipground.com, moziru.com

When to Sow Over 150 Annuals!

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Is it time to sow my annuals or should I wait? Source: zynga2-a.akamaihd.net, clipartandscrap.com & assets.podomatic.net

As the days get longer and longer, gardeners start to get itchy fingers. Surely it must be time to start their seedlings for the summer garden?

Seasoned gardeners have learned to restrain themselves, but beginners often just let loose, sowing any seeds they can get their hands on as early as January or February. It seems logical to them that, if the label says to sow seed X 6 weeks before the transplant date, they’ll have better results if they sow it 12 or 14 weeks before the transplant date. But they are sooo wrong!

Seedlings started too early do not produce stronger and more mature plants as you’d think, but weak, etiolated, stringy plants with seriously compressed roots that will only recover with difficulty once they’re planted in the garden, if indeed they recover at all. What you want instead are short, compact seedlings, not yet in bloom, but full of energy and ready to explode into growth once they’re in the garden.

In other words, you have to use a little restraint in sowing. In gardening, small is often better!

Sowing Dates for Annuals


For best results, start plants at the right date, not early. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

The following list presents about 150 annuals with the recommended sowing date for each one. If you see the mention “8 weeks,” that means you should sow it indoors 8 weeks before the date when you expect to be transplanting it to the garden. Note that this is not necessarily 8 weeks before the last frost date, as the soil and air may still be very cold at that time, but probably about 10 to 14 days later.

For example, where I live, the official last frost date is June 1st, but that refers to the average date of last frost. About 50% of the time, there is frost after that date. That’s why I usually use June 10 as a safe date for me to plant seedlings outdoors and it’s the one I use in calculating when to start my seedlings.

Here you go!

  1. Agastache (Agastache rupestris, A. cana and others) 8 weeks
  2. Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum) 4 weeks
  3. Alternanthera (Alternanthera dentata and others) 11 weeks
  4. Alyssum, Sweet (Lobularia maritima) 4 weeks
  5. Amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus) 4 weeks
  6. Amaranth, Globe (Gomphrena globosa and others) 6 weeks
  7. Angelonia (Angelonia angustifolia) 8 weeks
  8. Aster, China (Callistephus chinensis) 6 weeks
  9. Baby Blue Eyes (Nemophila spp.) 4 weeks
  10. Baby’s Breath, Annual (Gypsophila elegans) 4 weeks
  11. Baby’s Breath, Cushion (Gypsophila muralis) 6 weeks
  12. Bachelor’s Button, Annual (Centaurea cyanus and others) 4 weeks
  13. Bacopa (Sutera cordata) 10 weeks
  14. Balsam, Garden (Impatiens balsamina) 4 weeks
  15. Bean, Castor (Ricinus communis) 4 weeks
  16. Bean, Hyacinth (Lablab purpureus, syn. glahos lablab) 6 weeks
  17. Begonia, Tuberous (Begonia × tuberhybrida) 16 weeks
  18. Begonia, Wax (Begonia × semperflorens-cultorum, B. × benariensis and other non-tuberous varieties) 12 weeks
  19. Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis) 10 weeks
  20. Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) 6 weeks
  21. Black-Eyed Susan Vine (Thunbergia alata) 6 weeks
  22. Bloodleaf (Iresine spp.) 10 weeks
  23. Browallia (Browallia spp.) 8 weeks
  24. Bunny Tail (Lagurus ovatus) 6 weeks
  25. Burning Bush (Bassia scoparia, syn. Kochia scoparia) 6 weeks
  26. Cabbage, Ornamental (Brassica olearcea acephala) 4 weeks
  27. Calibrachoa (Calibrachoa × hybrida) 8 weeks
  28. Calliopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria and others) 6 weeks
  29. Canna (Canna spp.) 8 weeks
  30. Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) 10 weeks
  31. Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus communis) 4 weeks
  32. Cathedral Bells (Cobaea scandens) 10 weeks
  33. Celosia (Celosia argentea and others) 4 weeks
  34. Chrysanthemum, Annual (Glebionis carinatum [formerly Chrysanthemum carinatum] and others) 6 weeks
  35. Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata, syn. C. elegans) 6 weeks
  36. Cleome (Cleome hasslerana and others) 4 weeks
  37. Coreopsis, Plains (Coreopsis tinctoria and others) 6 weeks
  38. Corn-Cockle (Nigella damascena and others) 6 weeks
  39. Cosmidium (Thelesperma burridgeanum, syn. Cosmidium burridgeanum) 6 weeks
  40. Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus and C. sulphureus) 4 weeks
  41. Cup-and-saucer Vine (Cobaea scandens) 10 weeks
  42. Cupflower (Nierembergia hippomanica and others) 10 weeks
  43. Dahlia, Dwarf (Dahlia × hortensis) 6 weeks
  44. Dahlia, Tall and Medium (Dahlia × hortensis) 8 weeks
  45. Daisy, African (Arctotis × hybrida, formerly Venidium) 6 weeks
  46. Daisy, African (Osteospermum ecklonis, syn. Dimorphotheca ecklonis) 6 weeks
  47. Daisy, Dahlberg (Thymophylla tenuiloba, syn. Dyssodia tenuiloba) 6 weeks
  48. Daisy, Livingston (Dorotheanthus bellidiformis and Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) 10 weeks
  49. Datura, Double (Datura metel and others) 16 weeks
  50. Dichondra (Dichondra repens) 8 weeks
  51. Dracaena, Spike (Cordyline australis, syn. C. indivisa) 22 weeks
  52. Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria and others, Centaurea cineraria) 12 weeks
  53. Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus cinerea, E. globulus and others) 10 weeks
  54. Everlasting, Annual (Xeranthemum annuum) 6 weeks
  55. Everlasting, Golden (Xerochrysum bracteatum, syn. Helichrysum bracteatum) 6 weeks
  56. Everlasting, Winged (Ammobium alataum) 6 weeks
  57. Felicia (Felicia bergeriana and F. heterophylla) 4 weeks
  58. Flax (Linum grandiflorum, L. usitatissimum and others) 3 weeks
  59. Flossflower (Ageratum houstonianum) 4 weeks
  60. Forget-Me-Not, Chinese (Cynoglossum amabile) 6 weeks
  61. Four O’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) 6 weeks
  62. Fuchsia (Fuchsia × hybrida) 14 weeks
  63. Gaillardia, Annual (Gaillardia pulchella) 4 weeks
  64. Gazania (Gazania rigens) 6 weeks
  65. Geranium, Ivy (Pelargonium peltatum) 12 weeks
  66. Geranium, Zonal (Pelargonium × hortorum) 12 weeks
  67. Godetia (Clarkia amoena, formerly Godetia amoena) 6 weeks
  68. Gourd, Ornamental (Cucurbita pepo and Lagenaria siceraria) 3 weeks
  69. Grass, Fountain (Pennisetum villosum, P. setaceum) 6 weeks
  70. Grass, Hare’s Tail (Lagurus ovatus) 6 weeks
  71. Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) 10 weeks
  72. Hibiscus, Red-Leaf (Hibiscus acetosella) 10 weeks
  73. Honeywort (Cerinthe major) 10 weeks
  74. Impatiens, African (Impatiens auricoma and its hybrids) 8 weeks
  75. Impatiens, Common (Impatiens walleriana) 10 weeks
  76. Impatiens, New Guinea (Impatiens × hawkeri) 10 weeks
  77. Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum and others) 6 weeks
  78. Jewelweed, Ornamental (Impatiens glandulifera) 4 weeks
  79. Joseph’s Coat (Amaranthus tricolor) 4 weeks
  80. Kale, Ornamental (Brassica olearcea acephala) 4 weeks
  81. Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate (Persicaria orientale, syn. Polygonum orientale) 4 weeks
  82. Knotweed, Pink (Persicaria capitatum, syn. Polygonum capitatum) 10 weeks
  83. Larkspur (Consolida ambigua and C. regalis, formerly Delphinium) 6 weeks
  84. Laurentia (Laurentia axillaris, syn. Isotoma axillaris) 14 weeks
  85. Lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflora) 18 weeks
  86. Lobelia, Bedding (Lobelia erinus) 8 weeks
  87. Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) 4 weeks
  88. Mallow, Rose (Lavatera trimestris) 6 weeks
  89. Maple, Flowering (Abutilon spp.) 12 weeks
  90. Marigold, African (Tagetes erecta) 4 weeks
  91. Marigold, French (Tagetes patula and T. patula × erecta) 4 weeks
  92. Marigold, Pot (Calendula officinalis) 6 weeks=
  93. Melampodium (Melampodium paludosum) 6 weeks
  94. Mignonette (Reseda odorata) 6 weeks
  95. Milkweed, Tropical (Asclepias curassavica) 10 weeks
  96. Millet, Ornamental (Pennisetum glaucum) 8 weeks
  97. Million Bells (Calibrachoa × hybrida) 8 weeks
  98. Mimulus (Mimulus × hybridus) 8 weeks
  99. Morning Glory, Climbing (Ipomoea tricolor, I. nil, etc.) 3 weeks
  100. Morning-Glory, Dwarf (Convolvulus tricolor) 5 weeks
  101. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus and others) 2 weeks
  102. Nemesia (Nemesia strumosa and others) 6 weeks
  103. Nicandra (Nicandra physaloides) 6 weeks
  104. Nielle des blés (Agrostemma githago and others) 6 weeks
  105. Nierembergia (Nierembergia hippomanica and others) 10 weeks
  106. Nolana (Nolana paradoxa and N. humifusa) 4 weeks
  107. Palm, Cabbage (Cordyline australis, syn. C. indivisa) 20 weeks
  108. Pansy (Viola × wittrockiana) 8 weeks
  109. Pelargonium, Ivy (Pelargonium peltatum) 12 weeks
  110. Pelargonium, Zonal (Pelargonium × hortorum) 12 weeks
  111. Penstemon, Annual (Penstemon hartwegii, P. × gloxinioides, etc.) 12 weeks
  112. Periwinkle, Madagascar (Catharanthus roseus) 12 weeks
  113. Petunia (Petunia × atkinsiana and others) 10 weeks
  114. Phacelia (Phacelia campanularia, P. tanacetifolia and others) 4 weeks
  115. Phlox, Annual (Phlox drummondii) 6 weeks
  116. Pincushion Flower, Annual (Scabiosa atropurpurea) 6 weeks
  117. Pink, China (Dianthus chinensis) 8 weeks
  118. Policeman’s Helmet (Impatiens glandulifera) 4 weeks
  119. Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes phyllostachys) 10 weeks
  120. Poppy, California (Eschscholzia californica) 2 weeks
  121. Poppy, Mexican (Argemone mexicana and others) 6 weeks
  122. Poppy, Opium (Papaver somniferum, syn. P. laciniatum, P. paeoniflorum) 6 weeks
  123. Poppy, Shirley (Papaver rhoeas and P. commutatum) Sow outdoors.
  124. Poppy, Tulip (Hunnemannia fumariifolia) 6 weeks
  125. Portulaca (Portulaca grandiflora) 6 weeks
  126. Sage, Mealy (Salvia farinacea) 12 weeks
  127. Sage, Painted (Salvia viridis, syn. S. horminus) 6 weeks
  128. Sage, Scarlet (Salvia splendens) 6 weeks
  129. Sensitive Plant (Mimosa pudica) 10 weeks
  130. Shoo-Fly Plant (Nicandra physaloides) 6 weeks
  131. Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) 6 weeks
  132. Snapdragon, Climbing (Asarina, Lophospermum and Maurandya) 11 weeks
  133. Snapdragon, Fairy (Chaenorrhinum origanifolium, syn. C. glaerosum) 16 weeks
  134. Sneezeweed, Yellow (Helenium amarum) 8 weeks
  135. Snow on the Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) 6 weeks
  136. Spiderflower (Cleome hasslerana and others) 4 weeks
  137. Statice, Annual (Limonium sinuatum and others) 4 weeks
  138. Stock, Brompton (Matthiola incana) 6 weeks
  139. Stock, Virginia (Malcomia maritima) 4 weeks
  140. Strawflower (Xerochrysum bracteatum, syn. Helichrysum bracteatum) 6 weeks
  141. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus and others) 4 weeks
  142. Sunflower, Mexican (Tithonia rotundifolia) 6 weeks
  143. Sunray, Pink (Rhodanthe chlorocephala rosea and R. manglesii, syn. Acroclinium and Helipterum) 6 weeks
  144. Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus) 4 weeks
  145. Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) 8 weeks
  146. Throatwort, Blue (Trachelium caeruleum) 10 weeks
  147. Tickseed (Bidens aurea, B. ferulifolia and others) 6 weeks
  148. Tickseed, Garden (Coreopsis tinctoria and others) 6 weeks
  149. Toadflax (Linaria reticulata, L. maroccana, etc.) 8 weeks
  150. Tobacco, Flowering (Nicotiana alata, N. sylvestris and others) 6 weeks
  151. Tongue, Painted (Salpiglossis sinuata) 8 weeks
  152. Toothache Plant (Acmella oleracea, syn. Spilanthes acmella) 11 weeks
  153. Verbena, Hybrid (Verbena × hybrida) 10 weeks
  154. Verbena, Tall (Verbena bonariensis) 8 weeks
  155. Wishbone Flower (Torenia fournieri and others) 8 weeks
  156. Zinnia (Zinnia elegans, Z. haageana, Z. angustifolia, etc.) 4 weeks
  157. Zinnia, African (Melampodium paludosum) 6 weeks
  158. Zinnia, Creeping (Sanivitalia procumbens) 6 weeks
20180117D medium.com.jpeg

Follow the Goldilocks principle when sowing seeds: start them neither too early nor too late, but just right! Source: medium.com

If you follow the dates suggested in the list above, that should give you annuals of just the right size for transplanting to the garden.

Now that you know the recommended sowing date for your favorite annuals, pull out a calendar and count backwards to find the best time to sow them in your area.20180117A zynga2-a.akamaihd.net, clipartandscrap.com & assets.podomatic.net

For a Green Thumb, Match Saucer Size to Pot Size

20180112A www.wmpot.co.uk

Saucers should be at least as wide as the rim of the pot. http://www.wmpot.co.uk

Did you know that the size of the saucer a flower pot sits in is important in the survival of the houseplant it contains?

To choose the right size saucer, place it upside down on the top of the pot: the saucer should have a diameter as large as that of the pot or even slightly wider. For example, for a 6 inch (15 cm) pot, the corresponding saucer should also measure at least 6 inches (15 cm).

20180112B www.mycutegraphics.com.png

To choose the right saucer, place it upside down on top of the pot. It should be at least as large. Source: http://www.mycutegraphics.com

Few people know this, but a proper horticultural saucer is designed so that, when it is filled almost to the brim, it contains enough water to moisten all the soil in the pot.

20180112C www.wmpot.co.uk.jpeg

This saucer is too small for the pot. It will likely leave the plants chronically underwatered. Source: www.wmpot.co.uk

People often choose too small a saucer. In fact, many decorative pots (obviously designed by non-gardeners!) come with a built-in saucer clearly too small for the pot it’s attached to! So when you water the first time, the saucer begins to overflow before the plant is satisfied with the amount applied. Not wanting to damage your furniture, you add less water the next time … and thus the poor plant in the pot begins to suffer from a chronic lack of water. Your effort to “avoid damaging the furniture” overrides the health of the plant and may even gradually kill it!

20180112E amazon.com

The ridiculously small saucers on most hanging baskets make them almost impossible to water correctly. You have to take the pots to the sink and soak them to really make sure the plants get enough water. Source: amazon. com

Do not be fooled by appearances when you choose a saucer! A pot is narrower at the base than at the top and for some reason humans generally find a saucer that is somewhat tight around the base of the pot more aesthetically pleasing than a saucer of the right size. Look at the picture at the top of this page: most people will find the saucer seems a little too big. Yet it is exactly the size to correctly water the plant!

Overgrown Plants Need Bigger Saucers

20180112D www.homedepot.com.jpg

Seriously overgrown for the size of its pot, this bird of paradise will nevertheless be able to hang on for ages if you give it an extra-large or extra-deep saucer, as above. Source: www.homedepot.com

So much for a correctly potted plant, but sometimes plants outgrow their pots, one sign of which is that they begin to need watering two or three times a week. Ideally, you’d repot into a larger container, but if you don’t have time, simply place the plant in a wider or taller saucer and fill it to the brim with water when you water. It’s amazing how quickly it will drink it all up! And now it will have enough moisture to last a few more days before it needs water.

This tendency to undersaucer (I know, I know, it’s not a real word, but…!) is a major cause of the famous “black thumb” so many people claim to suffer from. Increase the size of your saucer so it matches your plant’s needs and suddenly your thumb will become much greener!

The Titillating Sex Life of Orchids

20180115A thecliparts.com, Clipart Library & pngimg.com .jpg

Orchid flowers make themselves as seductive as possible! Source: thecliparts.com, Clipart Library & pngimg.com

Flowers are all about sex. If they look good and smell good, it’s not to please us humans, but to better seduce their pollinators, because most need cross pollination (transfer of pollen from the flower of one plant to the flower of another of the same species) in order to reproduce. And orchids are the masters of sex when it comes to the world of plants.

How Plants “Do It”

20180115B www.asthmacenter.com

Wind-borne pollen (here from pine trees) can be so copious it coats everything. Source: www.asthmacenter.com

Many plants (conifers, oaks, grasses, etc.) produce extra-light pollen in copious quantities then liberate it massively into the air so it will be carried away by the wind. They do so in the hopes (yes, I’m going to go a bit anthropomorphic in this blog; it just makes the explanations so much simpler!) that a single pollen grain will accidentally land on a receptive flower of the right species. Wind pollination does work (otherwise, the species that do it would have gone extinct), but what a waste of resources! Sometimes the entire landscape is covered with a thin layer of pollen that will never serve the plant in any way.

20180115B www.sarahplusbees.com.jpg

Most insect-pollinated flowers offer an abundant source of nectar to encourage repeat visits. Source: http://www.sarahplusbees.com

Other plants use a more reliable pollinator than the wind—usually an insect, although occasionally a bird (a hummingbird, for example) or a mammal—to carry their pollen from one flower to another. Many essentially offer an open bar: they give as a reward a generous amount of nectar and pollen and are none too picky when it comes to their suitors. Think of the common oxeye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare, found in fields everywhere. It gives off a subtle, sugary, generic odor that attracts a wide range of insects and its florets just drip with nectar. It likewise produces more pollen that it needs so pollen-eating insects can have their share. The daisy can be pollinated by bees, flies, butterflies, beetles or wasps of many different species.

Scientists have a way of spelling things out quite bluntly and call such blooms promiscuous flowers. (If they hadn’t said it, I would have!) Such plants are counting on the likelihood that one of their many pollen-laden visitors will eventually land on a plant of the same species and that some of the pollen that stuck to its body as it fed will come free and ensure fertilization. That’s still a lot of nibbles and booze (oops, I mean pollen and nectar) to give away, but at least the investment is worthwhile if they achieve pollination.

20180115J yucca_moth, Google Images.jpg

The yucca moth absolutely depends on the yucca for its survival (Yucca spp.) and the yucca can only be pollinated by the yucca moth. Source: Google Images

Other flowers are very specific … and orchids are often in this group. Pollinator-specific flowers come in a distinct color or form, have barriers to keep unwanted pollinators out or a scent that is only appreciated by one specific pollinator or at least a limited number of pollinators, thus forming a specific plant-pollinator interaction. A good example among non-orchids is the yucca moth (Tegeticula sp.), which pollinates only yuccas (Yucca sp.). The plant absolutely needs the pollinator and the pollinator can’t get along without the plant. Such plants don’t need to produce as much pollen and certainly not as much nectar as promiscuous flowers … but they usually do have to curry the favor of their pollinators by rewarding them in some way: pollen, nectar, oils, housing, etc.

Orchids, though, are not as charitable as most plants. Although their heavy pollen can’t be carried by the wind and they are almost always pollinated by insects (more rarely by mammals or birds), they are very stingy with their pollen. They don’t produce “quantities” of pollen, only two pollinia or pollen masses (singular: pollinium) per flower. And most are not particularly generous with their nectar either. Indeed, many produce no nectar at all.

Obviously, it’s vital for a flower with only two pollinia that the insect that picks up its ever-so-rare pollen deposits them on another orchid of the just right species. Thus, orchids will go to almost any length to please their specific pollinator, using clever combinations of colors, scents, shapes and textures to better seduce it … but many still don’t feed it!

Deceptive Flowers

20180115K scarletblack.ca & moziru.com.jpg

Deceptive orchids trick insects into pollinating them, but offer nothing in return. Source: scarletblack.ca & moziru.com

The way orchids get away with “offeriing the product, but not delivering the goods” is by mimicry. They try to replicate things their pollinator will find attractive: flowers, fellow insects … even rotting meat! They can do this by smell, taste, appearance, texture, etc. Their pollinator visits them expecting one thing, but gets … nothing in return. But it leaves with orchid pollinia glued to its body.

One estimate suggests that of the 20,000 species of orchids, about 8,000 are so-called “deceptive flowers”: they claim to offer something interesting to a pollinator, but don’t deliver. Orchids are not the only deceptive flowers, but they are by far the best at floral trickery.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Seducing the Orchid Bee

20180115C Ophrys apifera, BerndH, WC.jpg

The lip of the bee orchid looks like a female bee, complete with wings, the better to seduce the orchid bee into pollinating it. Source: Ophrys apifera, BerndH, Wikimedia Commons

The bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) is a terrestrial European orchid, also called (I didn’t invent this!) the prostitute orchid. It sets out to seduce a male bee of an appropriate species (different solitary bees in the genera Tetralonia and Eucera). To do so, the bee orchid starts by producing a flower that is physically quite similar to the female of the solitary bee. It has the same color (from a bee’s point of view; we don’t see colors the way they do), is the same size and even offers a similar shaggy texture.

But the coup de grâce is the perfume: the flower releases a pheromone (sex hormone) very similar to that of the female bee, but not quite the same. Tantalizingly different, you might say. Enough so that, if the male bee has to choose between the orchid and a female of his species, he often chooses the orchid!

20180115D Eucera, pollinia, pinterest.jpg

Male bee orchid with pollinia stuck to his head. Source: pinterest

When he lands and tries to copulate with the flower, his movements release the flower’s pollinia that end up literally glued to his head. Frustrated by the flower’s lackluster response, though, he leaves.

Bees may not be very intelligent, but they do learn. As a result, he’ll avoid the next few bee orchid flowers he encounters, remembering the disastrous results of his initial flirtation. But the further away he gets from the original flower, the more his memory fades and soon enough, he’s ready to try again. By now, though, he’s at a considerable distance from the original plant and this ensures that the cross-pollination that occurs will be between plants that are genetically distinct, thus avoiding any consanguinity. Just what the orchid wants!

When he lands on the new flower, the pollinia, if he’s wearing any, get caught in structures in the flower and are literally ripped from his head, then replaced by new ones.

Let’s hope he eventually finds a sweetheart of his own species before he dies of exhaustion!

The bee orchid is hardly an exception. Many orchids mimic the scent of female insects and induce the pseudo-copulation of males for their own reproductive purposes, but few mimic the appearance of the female quite as well as the bee orchid.

A Swarm of Pseudo-Bees

20180115E Oncidium sphacelatum, sitecgdw.com.jpg

The pretty flowers of many Oncidium orchids are designed to look like a swarm of bees. Source: sitecgdw.com

Some species of Oncidium in South and Central America have flowers that subtly mimic the appearance of local bees (genus Centris), but it’s not for the purpose of sexually attracting them. The small flowers are grouped in large numbers on arching stems that move in the slightest breeze, even to the point of seeming to shake.

Male Centris bees are very territorial by nature, and when they see what seems to be a swarm of dancing bees invading their space, they go on the attack, repeatedly dive-bombing the flowers … and when they do, they pick up pollinia by accident. After the exhausting but fruitless attack, they pull back, then discover another “flowery swarm” elsewhere, and attack that too, dropping off pollinia from the first orchid, thus ensuring fertilization, and picking up fresh pollinia. And before they learn better (and they will), this can happen four or five times, leaving the orchids pregnant and happy and the bees confused and frustrated.

Lady’s Slippers

20180115F Cypripedium pubescens D. Gordon E. Robertson, WC.jpg

The swollen pouch of a lady’s slipper orchid (here, Cypripedium pubescens) is actually an insect trap … and part of an elaborate pollination scheme! Source: D. Gordon E. Robertson, Wikimedia Commons

Deceptive orchids aren’t limited strictly to the tropics. The beautiful lady’s slipper (Cypripedium spp.), found, in one form or another, throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere, even in the boreal forest … is definitely on the list of deceptive flowers. In other words, she really isn’t much of a lady!

Its lip, a mutated petal in the shape of a pouch, gives off a honeyed smell that implies an abundant supply of nectar. The insect (a fly, bumblebee or solitary bee, depending on the species of lady slipper: each has its own favorite) lands on the lip looking for the promised nectar. It wanders towards the greatest intensity of scent … to discover itself on the smooth inner surface of the lip. Thus, it slips to the bottom of the pouch where the sweet scent is strongest, figuring it has hit the jackpot, but no, there is no nectar at all. Worse, when it tries to leave, there are downward inclined hairs that prevent it from going back the way it came. The insect is now a prisoner.

Eventually, it discovers an opening at the bottom of the flower and tries to wriggle its way out. In doing so, it drops off any pollinia it was carrying from a previous lady slipper encounter, thus ensuring pollination, but the exit hole is so arranged that, when it does it free, new pollinia are automatically glued to it.

The lady’s slipper orchid is far from the only orchid to use this technique. It’s a fairly common ploy among deceptive orchids.

Stinky Blooms

20180115G Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis, C T Johansson.jpg

The disgustingly scented flowers of Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis look and smell like rotting meat so as to better seduce their carrion fly pollinator. Source: C T Johansson, Wikimedia Commons

The gigantic orchid Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis will surely never win any beauty contest. It has to have just about the ugliest flower of any orchid.

Its 15 to 20 reddish-purple flowers look like rotten meat and swarm with fleshy projections said to look like wriggly maggots. In addition, it emits a truly nauseating odor, one said to replicate the stench of a thousand dead elephants rotting in the sun. It does so to attract a female carrion fly looking for a place to lay her eggs. (This is called “brood site deception.”) As she does so, she inadvertently picks up the flower’s pollinia, then carries them off to another flower. When the fly’s eggs hatch, they simply die: there’s nothing there they can actually feed on.

Again, Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis is not alone. Many orchids, including the those in the foreboding-sounding Dracula genus, likewise attract carrions flies with an odor that seems unbearable to our nostrils, yet so enticing to flies!

Flower Mimics

Not all orchid flowers mimic female insects, marauding bees or dead elephants. Many disguise themselves as other flowers.

When an abundant plant has found the key to success with pollinators, it’s far from uncommon for a local orchid to learn to imitate it to take advantage of its pollinators.

20180115H Guérin Nicolas, Mercewiki et Dick Culbert, WC.jpg

One of these three flowers is deceptive: it has nothing to offer its insect pollinators. Source: Guérin Nicolas, Mercewiki et Dick Culbert, Wikimedia Commons

In South and Central America, for example, there is a milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) and a lantana (Lantana camara) both of whose flowers share the same color combination (orange with a yellow center) and also the same pollinators—notably specific species of wasps and butterflies—and the two produce abundant nectar to ensure their favorite pollen carriers visit faithfully and thus transfer their pollen. However, a few species of Epidendrum—including E. radicans—have learned to mimic them by producing flowers of exactly the same colors … but with the difference that these orchids offer no reward whatsoever. The insects visit, pick up their orchid’s pollinia, and leave hungry and confused, the promised nectar simply being absent.

Again, there are hundreds of other orchids that mimic other flowers so they can “steal” their pollinators. It’s just something orchids do!

50 Shades of Orchid Sex

Obviously, there are many other deviations in the twisted sex life of orchids that I could have told you about:

20180115I Catasetum fimbriatum, catasetum-ian.blogspot.ca.jpg

A trigger mechanism in the flower of a Catasetum shoots pollen with such force it can stun the pollinating bee. Source: catasetum-ian.blogspot.ca

  • A Catasetum that shoots its pollinia onto the head of its pollinator with such force that it is sometimes knocked unconscious or even killed by the experience;
  • Darwin’s orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale) so badly wants to preserve its precious nectar from nectar thieves that it stores it at the bottom of a one foot (30 cm) spur so that only its exclusive pollinator, a moth called Xanthopan morgani praedicta, whose probiscus is just long enough, can reach it;
  • Holcoglossum amesianum which, if its preferred pollinator doesn’t show up, self-pollinates in such a very physical way that I wouldn’t dare to describe it in a blog that could be easily read by children;
  • And many more!

Decidedly, orchids are the vixens of the plant world … and they seduce humans too! After all, what do we do when so they shamelessly offer themselves to all and sundry with their sultry flowers, but take them from the wild and grow them in our homes and gardens!

Sex sells: it always has!20180115A thecliparts.com, Clipart Library & pngimg.com