Monday, September 29, 2008

Our Odd Plants, I

A few folks have observed that the pictures of our backyard suggested that we had somewhat odd plants. I suppose we do. And since I don't have time to write anything intelligent these days, I guess it's time to share our plants.

Here's one of our current favorites, Solanum pyracanthum, which I believe translates to "Firethorned Nightshade," which is a rather romantic name. This one is about two months old, about 18 inches high, and promises to get a lot taller.

The popular name for these, insofar as they have a popular name, is "Porcupine Tomato." Granted, it is in the same family as the tomato (and potato, and eggplant), but quite frankly I don't see the resemblance. When it bears fruit, I'm expecting something more like little black belladonna berries, not tomatoes...but we shall see.

I believe this plant is native to Madagascar, an island filled with odd plants. But wherever it hails from, it clearly had a difficult evolutionary childhood. It is covered with spines--lovely spines that start out red at the base and flame up into a fiery orange-yellow at the tips. And they are sharp, oh yes indeed my precious, as sharp as the thorsns on any cactus I've ever met.

When I say "covered with spines," I'm not kidding. These little babies have spines on their trunk, spines on their stems, spines behind their innocent-looking flowers, and even spines on their leaves. This is a plant with issues.



I've spoken to it kindly and suggested that we don't intend to harm it, but if anything it's getting spinier. Which is fine, really, as, seen in the sunlight, the spines are almost painfully beautiful.

A fellow Californian has warned on the web that in this climate these plants, which are supposed to form a 2-3foot high bush, turn into trees. He claims to have one eight feet tall that throws seeds everywhere, resulting in an ever-encroaching army of tiny seedlings which are equipped with vicious, untouchable little spines from the moment they sprout.

It is growing with astonishing rapidity. But I assume he's exaggerating a bit...

10 comments:

Joan said...

For heaven's sake, don't let anybody cross this with Kudzu!

Janet said...

From Madagascar, eh? I've got an escapee from that island too, the crown of thorns cactus, which is equally spiny. A neighbour had a huge one he refused to trim which he would put out on his front porch in the summer. I'd take visitors around to see it, because it looked like it belonged in a horror movie.

I keep mine cut back very severely because my house is too small to hold a large plant that you can't brush up against.

You practically need a biohazard suit to repot the thing...

Jamie Ford said...

Perfect. Now I know what to plant beneath my teenage daughter's window.

Jen Ster said...

I want an update on the H.R. Giger vines you have growing near the pool. Have you seen "The Ruins"? Seriously, have you? The book was better.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Joan--

Spiny vines? Yikes. Though I understand that some of the vines that yield rattan canes are pretty nasty...

David Isaak said...

Hi, Janet--

Yeah, crown of thorns are lovely, buy hard to work with. In Hawaii there are some very large planters of them in some public spaces. Doesn't require keep-off-the-grass signs.

David Isaak said...

Hey, Jamie--

Good idea, but they are considered "tender" even in So Cal. Yes, beneath that threatening exterior...

Tropics and deserts are the places for spines. I don't know what you can use in Montana.

Perhaps a pen of porcupines?

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jen--

I'll get pics of the Giger vines soon.

Meanwhile, I haven't seen The Ruins. And I have the book, ut haven't read it yet. I'm so far behind in my reading it makes me want to grow a second head.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jen--

I'll get pics of the Giger vines soon.

Meanwhile, I haven't seen The Ruins. And I have the book, ut haven't read it yet. I'm so far behind in my reading it makes me want to grow a second head.

Janet said...

Montana? That's simple. Prickly pear cactus. They grow wild in the hills. Mind you, they don't get very tall, so a ladder could get around them. But then at least, she'd need an accomplice on the outside... I'm not helping very much, am I, Jamie?