The Emu is undoubtedly one of the world's greatest flightless birds. Is the largest bird native to Australia and the only living member of the genus Dromaius. It is the second-largest bird in the world by height, the largest being its ratite cousin the ostrich. Ratites are flightless birds of the superorder Palaeognathae.

Image credit - Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, F. Lambert
1. The emu is a soft-feathered, brown, flightless bird that can reach a height of just under 7ft.

2. Emus do not sleep continuously at night but in several short stints sitting down.

3. Emu's can sprint at over 30 mph, and their long legs allow them to take strides of up to 9 ft in length.

4. Emu's can swim!

5. The emu's legs are among the strongest of any animal. They use their strongly clawed feet as a defence mechanism, and they are even strong enough to rip metal wire fences.

6. Emus can live between 10 and 20 years in the wild.

7. Emu's are preyed upon by dingos, eagles and hawks. They can jump and kick to avoid dingos, but they can only run and swerve against eagles and hawks.

8. The emu was an important source of meat to Aboriginal Australians.

9. Emu fat was used as bush medicine, and was rubbed on the skin. It also served as a valuable lubricant. It was mixed with ochre to make the traditional paint for ceremonial body adornment, as well as to oil wooden tools and utensils such as the coolamon -a small multi-purpose shallow vessel with curved sides, and similar in shape to a canoe.

10. Emus do not sleep continuously at night but in several short stints sitting down.

11. Male and female emus are similar in appearance, although the male's penis can become visible when it defecates.

12. The emu has two sets of eyelids. The second set moves from the end of the eye closest to the beak to cover the other side. This is used as a protective visor protecting its eyes from dust and grit caught in the strong desert winds.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, F. Lambert file is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less.

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THE AFRICAN TULIP TREE - Spathodea campanulata

The African tulip tree - Spathodea campanulata

The spectacular African tulip tree is one of the tropics best kept secrets, and in some places its worst mistake! As indicated by its common name the African tulip tree is native to the tropical dry forests of Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

The African tulip tree - Spathodea campanulata
The outstanding feature of the African tulip tree are of course its flowers. These are initiated from large clusters of velvety, bronze-green, kidney-shaped buds which are produced at the ends of the branches. The flared, brilliant red-orange funnel shaped flowers appear in 3 to 4 inch long racemes on the tips of the branches, all over the tree.

In the right climate the tree will blooms throughout the year but only a few flowers open at a time on each cluster. The unopened flowers contain water inside, which can be a source of water for some birds. These buds are often used by children who play with its ability to squirt the water at each other.

The fruit is a long pod, up to 18 inches in length that break open when they fall from the tree. Inside each pod is a stack of small seeds with transparent wings.

In some parts of Africa the indigenous people believe that the tree has magical properties. Wands used by local medicine men are made from its stems, while a string of the tree's red flowers posted at one's door marks the homeowner as a source of evil. Furthermore, African hunters boiled the hard, seed casings to extract an arrow poison.

Discovered in 1787 on the Gold Coast of Africa, the African tulip tree can grow anywhere between 25–90 ft tall. Unfortunately its popularity has come at a price as it has now become an invasive in Hawaii, Fiji, Guam, Vanuatu, the Cook Islands and Samoa. It has the habit of invading agricultural areas, forest plantations and natural ecosystems, and because of the large, overall height the African tulip tree will out-compete and smother most other trees and crops eventually becoming the prevailing tree in those areas. This has resulted in it being nominated as one of the Top 100 'World's Worst' invaders.

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THE CANNONBALL TREE -  Couroupita guianensis
The Devil's Hand Tree -  Chiranthodendron pentadactylon
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THE PIG FACE FRUIT - Solanum mammosum

The Pig Face fruit - Solanum mammosum

If you thought you had seen everything that the botanical world had to you offer then the Pig Face fruit could be somewhat of a surprise. Native to South America its common name is rather self-explanatory, but it also goes by a number of others such as nipplefruit, titty fruit, cow's udder. In China it is known as the five fingered eggplant, and in Japan it is known as Fox Face.

The Pig Face fruit - Solanum mammosum
As a member of the Solanaceae family it is related to both the tomato and the potato, but be warned. As attractive as the fleshy fruit may be, it is in fact poisonous.

The Pig Face has large, ornamental velvety leaves with purple veins and furry hair. On the surface of each leaf and lesser so on the underside, a number of prominent spikes extend from these veins. The branches and stems are also dotted with firm thorns. It is a bushy shrub and can grow up to 3-6 ft in height. The pink-purple flowers develop during spring and closely match its potato heritage. They are followed by the waxy, yellow coloured fruit which take several months to fully ripen. When opened the fruit is filled with small seeds which are purple-red in colour.

The Pig Face fruit - Solanum mammosum
The plant is mostly grown for its ornamental looks, however it has been used in traditional medicine. In India the juice of the fruit is suitable for making a rudimentary detergent and is surprisingly suitable for washing clothes.

It is probably best known for its use in building Chinese New Year trees and in Taiwan and Hong Kong where its decorative foliage is used in religious and festival floral arrangements.

Solanum mammosum can be propagated from seed and cuttings but the seeds are difficult to germinate outside of its natural habitat. It is believed that the seeds may have physiological dormancy, which can be overcome by mimicking the seasonal patterns of the species' native habitat.

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Camellia japonica 'Mrs. Tingley'

Camellia japonica and its cultivars are perhaps the most commonly grown of all plants within the Camellia genus. The wild species of Camellia is a native to both China and Japan and was originally introduced to Europe in 1739.

It is a large evergreen shrub with attractive, polished leaves. In fact, you can expect the 'Mrs. Tingley' cultivar to reach about 12 feet in height once mature. As a garden plant it is surprisingly hardy, but the 'Mrs. Tingley' cultivar is one of the earliest to flower, producing showy salmon round flowers with pink overtones at the ends of the branches from late winter to early spring.

Camellia japonica 'Mrs. Tingly'
Be aware, particular in northern European climates that damage can occur on the flowers as a result of the effects from early morning sunshine followed by frost. In areas prone to late frosts, plant Camellia japonica 'Mrs. Tingley' in a north or west facing site unless there is some light overhead shade from other trees that can offer some protection.

Like the majority of Camellias, the 'Mrs. Tingley' cultivar requires an acidic soil although they are a little more lime tolerant than the average Rhododendron. They will thrive in a good acid or neutral peaty soil, however if this is not available then dog in plenty of ericaceous compost before planting. If you can, water with rain water rather than tap water but if rain water is not available then feed with a water soluble, ericaceous fertilizer every few weeks over the growing period.

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How to grow rocket from seed - http://wordsandherbs.wordpress.com/

Young, freshly picked rocket leaves are one of the summer's secret pleasures. The trouble is that when you purchase rocket from the supermarket, sealed in its protective environment, it never tastes as crisp or a sweet as the home-grown alternative. Luckily enough, rocket in all of its guises is extremely easy to grow from seed.

Rocket seedlings
Rocket seed can be sown as soon as the threat of late frosts have passed and right up until September. Rocket plants will prefer a rich, fertile well-drained soil in full sun.

Using a prepared seedbed, mark out a straight line with a suitable board or strong twine. Then using a hand trowel or draw-hoe make a channel no more than 1 inch deep and probably no longer and a couple of yards long. You can always make subsequent sows as the season progresses in order to ensure a fresh supply of rocket throughout the year.

Thinly sow the seeds along the row at a rate of 1 seed every 1 1/5 inches, then back-fill the channel with the resulting spoil. Gently water the seeds in and you can expect to see your rocket seedlings emerge in a week or so. Thin out the weakest seedlings to leave one plant every 6-10 inches. For subsequent crops re-sow every three to four weeks.

How to grow rocket from seed
Keep the soil moist throughout the growing period as this will help to keep the plants growing well. Be aware that if the crop is kept too far on the dry side the plants will run to seed (bolting), and the leaves will become tough and unpalatable.

Always keep the seedbed free of weeds and avoid overwatering as this can lead to root damage which in extreme cases will kill off your crop. You can begin harvesting rocket leaves roughly 4 weeks after sowing. Regular picking will keep the new growth young, tender and tasty.

Remove flower buds as they appear to extend the life of your crop, however once the leaves begin to lose their flavour discard that particular plant.

Rocket plants can be prone to attack from flea beetles. While the beetles themselves can be difficult to spot the mottled damage on the leaves is quite recognisable. To control flea beetle damage organically grow your rocket crop under horticultural fleece.

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How to grow blueberries in pots and containers - http://www.modernvictorygarden.com/

Blueberries are one of the most popular fruits available today. Combine that with their 'super-fruit' status and you have an ideal choice for trying to growing at home. Native to North America, blueberries require a moist, well drained acidic soil to produce a decent crop, but if you don't have the right conditions do not worry. You can grow a perfectly good fruit in a container.

Wild American blueberry - image credit Berean Hunter
Plant in moist, well-drained, acidic soil in a sunny, sheltered spot. While blueberries are tolerant of shade, better crops (and autumn colour) are obtained in the sun.

Blueberries are very fussy about the acidity of the soil. If it is neutral or alkaline then the roots of the blueberry will be unable to take up certain, important such as iron and magnesium. This will cause discolouration in the leaves, stunted growth, and a very poor crop, if any. However this is easily managed when growing blueberries in a pot by purchasing a bag of good quality, soil-based ericaceous compost such as John Innes 'Ericaceous'.

If you are unable to get hold of ericaceous compost then you can lower the acidity by adding sulphur chips. Check the soil acidity can be measured by a pH meter, which you can buy from DIY stores, or garden centres. The pH of your soil needs to be pH 5.5 or lower for blueberries to thrive.

Growing blueberries in containers

How to grow blueberries in pots and containers - http://urbangardencasual.com/
As with many things, if growing blueberries in a container, size is important. With that in mind choose one that is at least 12 inches in diameter for young plants, then move up into an 18-20 inch container when it is outgrows the first. Glazed pots will be better than terracotta as they will be less prone to drying out, and is worth mixing both 'swell-gel' crystals (polyacrylamide), and horticultural grit or perlite to the compost to help replicate the blueberries natural growing conditions.

When planting, place some crocks (small pieces of broken concrete, clay pots, or polystyrene) in the bottom of the containers to help retain moisture.

Place the container in a sunny, sheltered spot and do not allow to dry out over the period. Keep the compost moist, but not waterlogged and using rain water over tap water is preferable.

How to grow blueberries in pots and containers - http://livenskoe.ru/
Feed blueberries once a month with an ericaceous fertiliser.

The blueberry berries will begin to ripen from mid-summer onwards. This is marked by the berries changing colour from green to dusty blue. Once blue they can be harvested, just keep an eye on competition from birds. If birds become a real problem then protect your plants under bird-proof netting.

Pick over the plants several times as not all the fruit ripens at the same time.

Berean Hunter file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.5 Generic license.

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The Golden Chalice vine - Solandra grandiflora

The Golden Chalice vine - Solandra grandiflora is one of the most impressive of all perennial climbing plants. Native to Caribbean, Mexico and South America, it is sought after by gardeners as an ornamental garden, and by local tribes for its narcotic properties.

The Golden Chalice vine - Solandra grandiflora
The defining feature of this plant are its impressive blooms. Each flower can grow up to 10 inches long, and are distinctly bell or chalice shaped - the inspiration for its common name. They first open up brilliant white in colour with a yellow throat, and have purple or brown stripes spiralling inside. As the flower matures the overall colour will darken to a lush gold.

The glossy leaves are oval shaped can grow as large as 6 inches. Unusually they sprout directly from the main stalk and side branches.

The flowers bloom in the evening or night and produce a strong, sweet fragrance similar to coconut, suggesting that they are pollinated by bats and moths. In their natural habitat the pollinated flowers are followed by large light-yellow berries which contain large amounts of tiny seeds. These berries change from light-yellow in colour to deep red as they ripen.

The aboriginal Indian tribes from central Mexico and northern Central America know the Golden Chalice vine as Kieli or Kieri which means 'Plant of the God’s'. It is regarded as a powerful, magical drug and aphrodisiac, however traditional wisdom believes that it is surrounded by evil forces.

The shamans use this plant to induce ecstatic trance states, but this is only done on rare occasions because they fear that when under its influence evil forces can steal their life force. The aboriginal Indians believe that only malicious, sinister shamans use it, and as such much of its traditional use has been kept secret

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The Chilean bellflower - Lapageria rosea

The Chilean bellflower is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful flowering vines in the world, so much so that it has been chosen as the national flower of Chile. It is native to the forests of southern Chile, namely the Valdivian temperate rain forest. Lapageria rosea is the only species within the genus Lapageria.

The Chilean bellflower- Lapageria rosea
The plant was introduced to Europe by William Lobb during his plant collecting expedition to the Valdivian temperate rain forests in 1845–1848. William Lobb (1809 – 3 May 1864) was a Cornish plant collector, employed by Veitch Nurseries of Exeter. While its exact date of discovery is unknown, records state that it was grown in Royal botanic gardens at Kew in 1847.

Lapageria rosea is an evergreen climbing plant that can reach over 10 metres in height. Strangely, the vines twine counter-clockwise in the Southern hemisphere and clockwise when grown in the Northern hemisphere. This may be due to the perceived change in travel of the Sun.

The large, rose-crimson flowers have six thick, waxy tepals which are red, and faintly spotted with small white blotches. The flowers are most frequently produced in late summer and autumn, although they can be produced at other times of the year depending on the climate.

The fruit is an elongated berry with a tough skin containing numerous small seeds about the size of a tomato seed. Each seed is covered in an edible fleshy coating known as an aril.

In the wild the plant is pollinated by hummingbirds.

The Chilean bellflower gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

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My most vivid memory of marrows is having boiled marrow slices served up on my dinner plate round my Nan and Grandads. This was a regular occasion as my Granddad was an avid gardener and home grown marrows was his speciality. That and tomatoes!

How to grow marrows from seed
It has been a few years since I last ate marrow as this lovely English crop is now very much out of fashion, however a seasonal crop it is well worth the effort as its delicate flavour and silky texture are hard to beat.

As most of you will know, the marrow is a squash and its fruits are better known as courgettes when they're picked at about 4 inches long - considerably shorter than when they are harvested for the supermarkets.

Of course, there are specific marrow cultivars and specific courgette cultivars, so if your purpose is to grow marrows you will need to purchase the right seed.

Growing marrows from seed

Marrow seeds
Luckily marrows are easy to grow, which would explain their popularity during the 'Dig for Victory' period during the Second World War.

Marrows like a rich, moist soil so dig in plenty of well-rotted farm manure or organic matter before planting - preferably a month or so before sowing. If you have a choice, marrows prefer heavier soils, and will always do best in a sunny, sheltered position - away from cold winds.

Marrow seeds are sown in late May or early June once the threat of late frosts are over. Sow two or three seeds 1 inch deep directly outdoors leaving approximately 3 ft between plants. A good tip is to sow the seeds into a shallow well in the soil. That way, when you come to watering over the summer you can provide a small 'well' of water which helps to keep this leafy, thirsty plant in good condition. If your soil will allow, create a 6 inch high mound with the well at the top. Although marrow will need plenty of water to grow they can suffer root damage if they are waterlogged for extended periods.

Marrow seedling
Water in then cover the seeds with a cloche, jars or plastic; leave in place for a couple of weeks as this will help to warm the soil and speed up germination. Once the seedlings have emerged you can thin them out leaving the strongest one to mature and crop.

Cover the young marrows with a protective netting or fleece to prevent damage from birds and insects. Once the marrows have reached a height of between 6-12 inches, the protection can be removed. You can also spread a thick mulch of organic matter around the plants will help to conserve moisture at the roots.

Marrows will require plenty of water in order to develop fully so soak the roots thoroughly and regularly. However, try to keep as much water as you can away from the foliage to help prevent the incidence of fungal infections.

Hoe between plants regularly to prevent weeds establishing, but hand weed around the stem to avoid damaging it. To promote flowering and fruiting, apply a high potash fertiliser every two weeks during the growing season.

You can begin harvesting marrows from midsummer onwards when they begin to swell. Regular harvesting will encourage the production of more marrows.

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THE DOG TOOTH VIOLET - Erythronium 'Pagoda'

The 'Dog Tooth' violet - Erythronium 'Pagoda'

The 'Dog Tooth' violet is one of the springs best kept secrets. Extremely ornamental, yet fleeting in appearance, the dog tooth violet is a master of both anticipation and charisma. Commonly known as dog's-tooth violet, its name alludes to the shape of the tubers - long, pointed, off-white and shiny. Erythronium dens-canis is the genuine dog's tooth violet, but the hybrid Erythronium 'pagoda' is also sold under this common name. Erythronium 'Pagoda' is in fact a hybrid of Erythronium revolutum and Erythronium tuolumnense.

The 'Dog Tooth' violet - Erythronium 'Pagoda'
Erythroniums belong to the lily family and, although 'Pagoda' is diminutive - no taller than 18 inches - its charisma is more than a match for their bigger cousins. They appear early in the spring. First to emerge are the beautifully mottled, bronze leaves followed by long, scrolled buds that unfurl into yellow flowers with a central brown ring.

Erythronium 'Pagoda' prefers partial shade in moist, but not waterlogged soils. Plant them deep into a humus rich border, but if this is not possible in your garden you can always improve it by adding plenty of suitable organic matter. Be aware that dormant tubers must not get too hot or too dry in summer otherwise they may not survive to the following spring.

The dog tooth violet is usually purchased as fleshy corms in late summer, and look best planted in groups of a dozen or so. Once planted it should be left undisturbed, but if a move is necessary it is best done as the leaves die back down after flowering.

Propagation is either by seed in autumn or by division of bulbs when the leaves die down in summer.

This plant was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

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THE VAMPIRE ORCHID - Catasetum macrocarpum

The Vampire orchid - Catasetum macrocarpum 

The broodingly sinister Vampire orchid - Catasetum macrocarpum is a large tropical epiphyte native to the Caribbean and South America. An epiphyte is a plant that grows non-parasitically upon another plant and receives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and the natural debris that accumulating around it.

The Vampire orchid - Catasetum macrocarpum
The vampire orchids range of distribution extends from Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, Brazil, Argentina as well as Trinidad, and can be found growing on trees from sea-level up to 1300 meters elevation. It also has the common names of Monk's Head Orchid or Large-Fruited Catasetum

The fragrant blooms appear in the late summer and autumn on a flowering spike that rises from the pseudobulb at the base of the plant. These flower spikes appear just before leaf-drop and can be up to 1 1/2 feet long. Up to 10, fleshy flowers are produced on each spike, and produce a fragrance similar to anise. The flowers tend not open well outside of their natural environment.

The male flowers pollen sacs, known as a pollina, is triggered by a pollinating bee which touching the spur inside the hood as it enters the flower trying to reach its nectar.

This triggers the pollina with attaches itself to the bee with an assertive push. There is a sticky gel known as viscidum at the bottom of the stipe (a stalk-like attachment on the pollina) which glues the pollina in place on the bees back.

The Vampire orchid - Catasetum macrocarpum
When the bee enters a female flower the pollinia fits into it like a key in the lock and ensures pollination.

You can grow the vampire orchid in intermediate to warm conditions with partially bright light.

Plants are usually grown in pots containing bark chips with perlite, cork, or just sphagnum moss. Just make sure that they have excellent drainage.

They will need to be watered regularly during the growing season, but one the plant begins to drop its leaves in the autumn watering will need to be reduced.

During this period of dormancy you will only need to water once every couple of weeks to keep pseudobulbs from drying out. You can resume normal watering once new growths emerges in spring. Be aware that the vampire orchids can easily die from overwatering.

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The peacock is arguably one of the world's most beautiful creatures. Outrageous plumage combined with stunning, iridescent colours, it really is a jewel amongst birds. Native to India, in Babylonia and Persia, the peacock was introduced into Mesopotamia 4000 years ago, and since then this magnificent bird can now be seen all over the world.

Peacock facts
1. While peafowl are often and incorrectly called peacocks, only the male is accurately called a peacock. The female is a peahen, and the offspring peachicks.

2. White peacocks are not true albinos. They have a genetic mutation known as Leucism, which causes the lack of pigments in the plumage.

3. The peacock is the national bird of India and is protected in that country.

4. Peafowl are forest birds that nest on the ground but roost in trees.

5. Peafowl are omnivorous and eat most plant parts, flower petals, seed heads, insects and other arthropods, reptiles, and amphibians.

Peacock facts
6. During the Medieval period, the aristocracy and landed gentry were privileged to more exotic foods, and as such peafowl were eaten as an ostentatious display of wealth.

7. In the wild the peafowl are preyed upon by tiger and leopards. The peafowl often acts as an early warning system for other game animals.

8. Incredibly, the average male train will contain over 200 feathers.

9. The large train is used in mating rituals and courtship displays. Females are believed to choose their mates according to the size, colour, and quality of these outrageous feather trains.

10. A group of peafowl is called a 'party' or a 'pride'.

11. In the Hindu religion, the peafowl is a sacred bird because the spots on the peacock’s tail symbolize the eyes of the gods.

Jebulon file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.
Franky boy 5 file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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How to grow Beaumontia grandiflora

Beaumontia grandiflora is a vigorous, evergreen climber whose native habitat ranges from Nepal and Southeast Tibet and Yunnan south through Assam, Burma (now Myanmar) and Southeast Asia. Commonly known as the Nepal trumpet flower, or the Easter lily, Beaumontia grandiflora is considered to be a tropical plant, but it is known to grow well in subtropical or southern Mediterranean climates. This is because Beaumontia grandiflora has evolved in an alpine environment making it is surprisingly hardy. In fact it is able to tolerate temperatures as low as to 28 degrees Fahrenheit -3 degrees Celsius with relatively little damage!

How to grow Beaumontia grandiflora
To get the most of of you Beaumontia grandiflora it will need to be planted in full sun wherever possible or light shade in tropical climates. It will require a rich soil, well drained soil  and will require plenty of water over the growing season. Be aware though that it dislikes heavy, wet soil in winter and can suffer severe root damage if kept waterlogged over this period. If heavy soil is difficult to avoid then create a raised bed and add plenty of grit and organic matter to improve the drainage.

It isn't necessary to prune Beaumontia grandiflora, but you may have to if your plant gets too large. Beaumontia grandiflora flowers on new seasons wood, so to make sure you get blooms the following year you will always need to prune immediately after flowering.

Growing Beaumontia grandiflora from seed

Beaumontia grandiflora seed should be sown in the early spring. Place each seed into a 3 inch pot containing a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'. Place in a heated propagator at 20 degrees Celsius, or inside a sealed, clear polythene bag on a warm, bright windowsill. Once germinated they will need to be removed from the propagator or bag, but can be left to grow on the warm windowsill. The can be planted outside in the early summer but will need to be hardened off for a week or so beforehand.

Tatiana Gerus file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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Sophora microphylla 'Sun King'

If you are looking for an impressive, early flowering shrub then you will be hard-pressed to find something better than Sophora microphylla 'Sun King'. Native to Chile and New Zealand, is a species from the family Fabaceae which makes it a relative of the humble pea!

Sophora microphylla 'Sun King'
Unfortunately there are no records regarding when the species Sophora microphylla was first discovered but it has been in cultivation since 1772. The cultivar 'Sun King' is an extremely hardy and popular form with a small, glossy ornamental leaves and a bushy habit. Depending on it position it will grow between 6-10 feet in height with a spread of 4-7 feet. It produces large, bright yellow flowers which are borne in abundance over a long period from late winter to spring. These are followed by 6-8 inch long slender pods, resembling a string of four-winged beads. However despite its tough, evergreen looks, its early flowers can put it at risk of damage from frosts.

Sophora microphylla 'Sun King' will do best planted in a sheltered position in any well-drained, fertile soil. To reduce the impact of damage from the winter cold keep them protected from north and east winds.

Train larger specimens on sturdy trellis work against walls or fences.

Sophora microphylla 'Sun King' received the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society in 2002.

Images credits - Simon Eade gardenofeaden@gmail.com

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Sophora microphylla 'Sun King'

THE ARUM LILY - Zantedeschia aethiopica

The Arum Lily - Zantedeschia aethiopica

The Arum lily is arguably one of the most beautiful of all flowering plants. It has been in cultivation in Europe since at least the 1660s and is one of the world's most iconic and widely known plants. Native to southern and east Africa in Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Madeira, the name of the genus was given as a tribute to Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773–1846) by the German botanist Kurt Sprengel (1766–1833). However the Afrikaans name for the Arum lily - 'Varkoor', is less than complimentary as it means 'pig's ear'! Despite this rather unfortunate pseudonym the Arum lily is used across the world as a symbol of purity in bridal and funeral flower arrangements.

The Arum Lily - Zantedeschia aethiopica
The arum lily is best known for its striking appearance when in flower, producing a brilliant white floral bract (known as a spathe) which is wrapped around the yellow, finger-like spadix in the centre. These Inflorescences (the complete flower head of a plant including its flowers ) can be quite large on mature specimens, with the spathe reaching up to 10 inches in length. The fruits which follow are green berries which turn orange at the base when ripe.

When planted in optimum conditions you can expect a fantastic display of flowers throughout the spring and summer.

It is because of these outstanding inflorescences that Zantedeschia aethiopica has become very popular for cut flowers, as well as an ornamental garden plant.

The arum lily is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant. It grows naturally in marshy areas and is only deciduous when water becomes scarce. In its natural habitat it will often be found in or on the banks of streams and ponds. It will grows from 2–3 ft tall, with large clumps of broad, arrow shaped dark green leaves which can be up to 18 inches long.

The Arum Lily - Zantedeschia aethiopica
So long as it is warm enough it will grow continuously when watered and fed regularly, and can even survive periods of minor frosts. This means that it can be grown outside in any of the warmer, northern European countries. However, to be on the safe side, consider the cultivar 'Crowborough'. It is is a cold tolerant cultivar growing to 36 inches tall, and is ideally suited to cool climates such as the British Isles and north-western United States.

You can plant the Arum lily in any position it will grow best in moist, fertile soil or as a marginal plant in shallow water. The growing conditions will also determine size and flowering. Planting under shade is preferable if there is no boggy or wet position available, but be aware that this will reduce the number of flowers produced and will ultimately result in a smaller plant.

Zantedeschia species are poisonous due to the presence of calcium oxalate, and ingestion of the raw plant may cause a severe burning sensation and swelling of lips, tongue, and throat. In extreme cases stomach pain and diarrhoea may occur. However leaves are sometimes cooked and eaten, and the rhizomes are also believed to edible.

The arum lily has become an important symbol of Irish republicanism and nationalism since 1926, and is the national flower of the island nation of Saint Helena.

The Zantedeschia aethiopica cultivars 'Crowborough' and 'Green Goddess' have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's 'Award of Garden Merit' (AGM).

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How to grow Chinese cabbage from seed

Chinese spinach is an edible plant from the Amaranth family. Also known as Red spinach, Hon-toi-moi, Yin choy, Hsien tsai or Spleen amaranth, it is a native of Asia, Europe and Africa. It may be eaten raw in thoran or cooked in curry, bhajis, stir-fry's and soups. Chinese spinach - Amaranthus dubius should not be confused with the ancient south American grains - Amaranthus caudatus, Amaranthus cruentus, and Amaranthus hypochondriacus.

How to grow Chinese cabbage from seed
Chinese spinach is a fast-growing vegetable that grows very well in warm climates. In the right environment, this fast-growing vegetable can be harvested 30 days after sowing, using the cut-and-grow-again method.

Chinese spinach seeds are best sown from April onwards once the threat of late frosts have passed, however it is more important to make sure that soil temperatures are averaging above 16 degrees Celsius. If you wish to sow amaranthus seed earlier then it will need to be under the protection of a small polytunnel. Of course, once the weather stays consistently warm the cover can be removed.

Be aware that amaranthus seeds are very small so sow them thinly into rows 12 inches apart with each row spaced up to two feet apart. Cover with a 1/4 inch of soil, firm gently, and keep moist and weed free. When they are large enough, thin the seedlings out to approximately 1 plant for every 3 inches if you are using them for baby leaf. If you are intent on producing mature plants  thin them out to 8 inches apart. You can of course eat any thinnings as you would do with baby leaf salad or they can be added to stir fries.

Harvesting Chinese spinach

How to grow Chinese cabbage from seed
If you are growing in northern Europe, you should be able to harvest your first Chinese spinach crop from June until the temperatures drop in October.

If you are using the crop for baby leaves, only pick a few leaves per plant. For mature plants, harvest leaves and stem from the top to encourage further side shoots. Remove any flowers as soon as their buds appear otherwise leaf production will come to an end.

Some edible amaranth cultivars can grow to a decent height and will need the support of canes in exposed conditions. Place the canes before the plants get to a size where the roots can become damaged by their insertion.

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The emu is quite a fussy eater, preferring foods that are rich in nutrients, such as seeds, fruit and young fruit. Emu's will avoid grass and old leaves even if there is nothing else to eat! As part of their general diet they will eat a variety of both native and introduced plant species. Of course seasonal availability will need to be taken into consideration during which they will also eat insects, including grasshoppers and crickets, ladybirds, soldier and saltbush caterpillars, Bogong and cotton-boll moth larvae and ants. Emus will also take feed on insects, small rodents and lizards when they are plentiful.

What do emus eat?
There is also evidence of preferential choice within emu groups. In Western Australia, wandering emus have been observed to eat seeds from Acacia aneura until it rains, after which they eat fresh grass shoots and caterpillars. In the winter this same group of emus went onto feed on the leaves and pods of Cassia until spring, after which they fed predominantly on grasshoppers and the fruit of Santalum acuminatum.

Emu's do not have teeth and so they will swallow small pebbles to act as gizzard stones (gastroliths). These help the emu digest its food as they grind up the food in the stomach making it easier to absorb the nutrients. These pebbles can be quite large - up to 46 grams in weight!

Because the emu's diet is so nutritious, it will grow quickly and breed in large numbers. It is almost constantly on the move, covering hundreds of kilometres searching for food once supplies have been exhausted from one area.

Emu food facts

What do emus eat?
1. Emu's can have as much as 750 g of gastroliths in their gizzard at any one time.

2. Emu's have been known to eat charcoal, however research has yet to ascertained why.

3. Captive emus have been witnessed eating shards of glass, marbles, car keys, jewellery and nuts and bolts.

4. Wild emu's are opportunistically nomadic and will travel long distances to find food. While their diet is varied, they have been known to go for weeks without food

5. Emu's serve as an important agent for the dispersal of large viable seeds, which contributes to floral biodiversity

Benjamin distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 only as published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Text:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU_Free_Documentation_License
Larry Rana file is a work of a United States Department of Agriculture employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

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THE SNAPDRAGON - Antirrhinum majus

The Snapdragon - Antirrhinum majus

The snapdragon - Antirrhinum majus is justifiably one of the most popular of all summer bedding plants. Also known in England as 'bunny rabbits', its natural habitat ranges from Morocco and Portugal north to southern France, and east to Turkey and Syria. However it often escapes from garden cultivation, and naturalised populations now occur widely across northern Europe.

Snapdragon blooms
The name snapdragon, relates to a mechanism that has been evolved by the flower as part of its pursuit in securing a specialised pollinator - the bumblebee.

Similar in action to some orchids, the flower closes over the bumblebee when they enter and deposit pollen on their bodies

As most children will know, the common name has arisen from hoe the flower reaction to having it base gently squeezed. This causes the flower mechanism to snap open like a dragon's mouth.

A lesser known and more sinister aspect to this gorgeous herbaceous perennial are the shape of its dried seed pods.

Each seed pod looks like a miniature skull, complete with hollow eye sockets and mouth agape, and of course this had not gone unnoticed by early European cultures who believed that the snapdragon possessed supernatural powers.

Snapdragon seed head
Usually treated as annuals, these plants are excellent for bedding and for growing on in pots. The taller forms are suitable for cutting and the dwarf varieties for edging borders and for rock gardens. The fragrant flowers are produced on spikes from July until the first frosts.

Snapdragons will grow in any well cultivated soil, but a well-drained light to medium soil enriched with well-rotted farm manure will give the best results. They will prefer a sunny position, however some of the taller cultivars will require staking if they are being grown in exposed conditions.

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The Snapdragon - Antirrhinum majus