The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers

The Bard wrote those lines specifically for me: firstly, he wanted to torture me by making me read the entire trilogy of Henry the Sixth with only those two worthwhile lines (honestly, Shakespeare’s histories are rubbish – everything else, great); secondly, I might actually kill all the lawyers in all the lands for as long as my bloody hands have power in them.

The sale of the property is dragging on forever and for no good reason other than the fact that neither the lawyers nor anyone at the bank appear ever to have sold a property before…everything problem that comes up is a HUGE surprise to them. Apparently they have no checklist of what needs to be done or they simply aren’t following it. Either way they are completely useless. Why the hell do these people still have jobs? Why am I still doing mine? I could also answer my phone every third day and throw my hands in the air and say its beyond my control.

Bitterness be gone and on to lovelier things…plants and a cat

The mother goddess Gaia has exposed her fertile bosom to unsuspecting passers-by – it started raining yesterday and leaves have started appearing on trees. I have really been neglecting my plants this year, but I have started turning things around a bit.

First an update on the Welwitschia mirabilis seedlings. It has been exactly a month since I planted them. Six of the twelve seeds germinated. The cotyledons have now turned a nice green and the first and only pair of leaves that it will ever have can just be seen emerging between the cotyledons.

Welwitschia mirabilis one month in
Welwitschia mirabilis one month in.

I really need to get pots for these little ones, because pretty soon I won’t be able to replant them as their taproots will be too long and fragile.

Some exotic orchids in bloom:

Paphiopedilum Maudiae 'Magnificum'
Paphiopedilum Maudiae ‘Magnificum’
Coelogyne Intermedia
Coelogyne Intermedia
Masdevallia tovarensis
Masdevallia tovarensis

Some indigenous lovelies:

Gerbera jamesonii
Gerbera jamesonii
Kleinia stapeliiformis
Kleinia stapeliiformis

And some seedlings (and a cat):

Erythrina lysistemon seedlings
Erythrina lysistemon seedlings

Erythrina lysistemon is an indigenous tree also known as the Coral Tree. It is spectacular. I think Pretoria should replace the Jacaranda with this tree – how does Erythrina City sound? OK, not entirely wholesome, but Jacarandas are exotic trees and they consume immense amounts of water. Anyway, just look at how pretty Erythrina lysistemon is! And note the dead grass…it blooms in late winter or early spring.

Erythrina lysistemon

Xerophyta viscosa
Xerophyta viscosa & Loki

And finally a cat! It’s very difficult taking pictures of something without either Loki or Karel coming to investigate. Xerophyta viscosa is relatively unknown, but everyone on the highveld has seen a related species, Bobbejaanstert (Xerophyta retinervis). This is what Xerophyta viscosa will look like when it is all grown up…

Erythrina lysistemon

…in 15 or 20 years.

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The oddest plant in the world

Hyperbole? I think not. Just look at it:

Welwitschia mirabilis

Welwitschia mirabilis, as the name implies, is a bit of a miraculous thing. It grows in a desert, but it is not a succulent. It has a mass of leaves sticking out of the ground, but there are actually only two leaves that it retains its entire life. It is considered a tree, yet it hardly grows higher than the typical person’s waist.

This species occurs in a restricted strip along Namibia’s coast approximately 100km by 1000km. It is a denizen of the Namib desert, but would soon die without the regular mist from the ocean found in this region. It is also a loner: there is only one species of Welwitschia and only one genus in its family. It forms part of the gymnosperms: seed-bearing, but flowerless (like pines). Although its reproductive organs can be mistaken for flowers (there is some evidence that Welwitschia could represent some intermediate form of reproductive organ between gymnosperms and the flowering plants), they are actually cones (called strobilli). For more information on its ecology and biology, visit PlantzAfrica.

I have tried to grow this plant from seed before and was successful in keeping the seedling alive for about 8 months. Unfortunately, two seedlings were crushed by my cat who believed he was fully justified in picking a pot baking in the sun as his late afternoon nap spot. The last seedling succumbed to my erratic watering regime. 66% not my fault, in other words – not bad for a first attempt.

I decided to try them again and – success!

Welwitschia cotyledons #2

Can’t see it? It’s the thin red-brown ribbon coming from the soil. You don’t have to feel bad about missing it – this photo was heavily cropped so that the tiny thing does not disappear from sight.

I sowed 12 seeds on 2 August 2015 in large terracotta pots using the following mix:

  • 2 parts germination mix
  • 1 part vermiculite
  • 1 part washed river sand

I placed a generous amount of crocking at the bottom of the pot to help drain excess water and keep the mix from slowly leaching out the drainage hole.
Welwitschia mix

It’s a nice loose mix that will retain moisture, but also drain effectively. The biggest problem with Welwitschia is that the plant needs water (it is not a succulent), but it easily succumbs to fungus attacks (like damping off). So I hoped that this mix would help achieve both ends.

Welwitschia sown

Before I sowed the seeds, I soaked the mix thoroughly. The seeds were covered in a thin layer (maybe 5mm) of the same soil mix as above. I covered the seeds with a layer of the same mix. After a light watering, I wrote the tag (people always forget to write tags immediately – don’t), covered the pots with plastic kitchen wrap and tied it shut with a lenght of string. I placed the pots in a nice sunny spot. Welwitschia needs high soil temperature to germinate but must never dry out. Quite a tall order. The plastic wrap keeps the moisture in and frees me from having to check the pot regularly to ensure that the mix has not dried out.

Welwitschia tag

About ten days after sowing, I became very curious and decided to dig up on of the seeds to see if anything had happened. I was pleasantly surprised to find the seed stuck – it had obvious started growing is massive tap root. With wanton abandon I dug deeper and extricated the whole seedling with the radicle growing below. The juvenile root measured 3cm!

Welwitschia juvenile root

I carefully replaced the seedling and covered again. Yesterday I finally couldn’t take it longer and checked again. There were two seedlings emerging in one of the pots (today the count is up to 3!). Below you can see the cotyledons of the seedling – the two real leaves will only emerge in a few weeks’ time.

Welwitschia cotyledons #1

I will have to start watering them with a fungicide soon to remove any possibility of damping off and I’ll have to find more suitable pots. The tap root can grow immensely long and the plant itself becomes quite large. A 30cm high pot simply will not do. I will try to find mid-sized concrete pipes, like the type they use in sewage lines. If I can block off one end, I could fashion a nice tall pot for them.

More pics to follow when they look more like plants.