Saturday, April 28, 2012

A handful from the balcony garden

A little clearing up of plants and replanting on the balcony, which was way past due, was done in the past week. I have since decided to change from using polybags to small plastic pots for the herbs that I grow on the balcony in order to free up some space. Plus it is easier on the eyes, so to speak. The Thai basil was harvested and made into Thai basil infused vinegar, plus some Bishop’s Crown chillies. The fruits can be two to four-lobed and one plant can produce any of the types, probably influenced by environment factors.
A bunch of Thai basil and some Bishop's Crown chillies. The basil went into a jar of vinegar whilst the chilli was used in a salad.
Cuttings of herbs - sage, spearmint, oregano, tarragon and sweet basil.

The Capsicum baccatum plant is not doing too well in the heat and having to fend off mealybugs and thrips infestation. Touch wood, I have not seen any spider-mites yet, which is good since they can be very hard to eradicate. Now I am waiting for another batch of Bishop’s Crown seedlings to come up and replace the current plants. The peppermint got evicted from their big polybags and also any other bags that they have managed to crawl to and establish themselves on. They have been reduced to just a few cuttings in two plastics pots.
Bishop's crown chilli
Some of the ripened Bishop's Crown chillies. They can be a 2, 3 or 4-lobed fruit. The lobes are sweet with a mild citrusy taste (I think they taste better than bell peppers) whilst the core is hot. And with enough heat to leave your hands with a burning sensation if you deseed them with your bare hands.
Capsicum baccatum
One of the Bishop's Crown Chilli plant on the balcony - I have not harvested this batch of fruits yet. The leaves are not so pretty to look at due to the heat and insect attacks. The Ascocenda Vernon Kebodeaux beneath the chilli blooms like clockwork.
Bishop's crown chilli, Capsicum baccatum
Another plant with 7 chillies on a branch that is now almost leafless. They look like mini UFOs hanging from the balcony.

I have also sown some of the seeds that Diana gave the last time i.e. the chervil and chives. I have only sown a small number of chervil seeds and will probably continue to sown another batch as I am afraid the conditions here might trigger them to bolt. The seedlings seemed to grow at a fast rate, and are all coming up nicely. Took them just 3-4 days to germinate and put out roots before lifting the cotyledon leaves up. If you want some chervil or herb seeds to grow, do check out her blog where those seeds are available (Kebun Bahagia Bersama).
Chervil seedlings popping out of the soil. These were from the seeds that Diana sent me last Christmas.
A few days later, the chervil had begun to put forth their first real leaf.

Whilst clearing up, I also found out that three of the remaining Dahlia pots had produced pot tubers. I saved two of the three (the third one was a single-petaled type) and repotted the tuber in a small pot. The buds at the neck of the tuber sprouted as well as the lateral buds further up. I did not cure the pot tubers but opted to replant them after soaking the tubers with Carbendazim (Methyl 1H-benzimidazol-2-ylcarbamate) and Zineb (Zinc ethane-1,2-diylbis(dithiocarbamate)). This is to prevent rotting of the cut surfaces on the uncured tubers. I have tried curing Mignon Dahlia pot tubers before and they all shrivelled up as I had allowed it to dry out too much. Pot tubers are much smaller than standard tubers and tend to dry out rapidly once removed from the earth.
One of the Dahlia pot tubers - the black arrows point to intact buds at the neck of the tuber whilst the blue arrow is pointing at one that was accidentally damaged by me when emptying the pot.
The same tuber after a few days, with the buds sprouting. Since this pot tuber was not cured, the buds on the stem above also sprang forth with life. I will slowly raise the soil level to cover the growing buds from the neck of the tuber. And yes, the stake is actually a chopstick.

So now I have to be diligent and watch for pest and wait for them to grow back.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Memoriam - the RMS Titanic (1912-2012)

April 15 1912, the unsinkable... sank. Today marks the 100th anniversary of the tragedy that occurred 640km off the coast of Newfoundland. Out of the 2227 or so passengers on board (no definitive list of passengers), about 710 survived the tragedy. Due to outdated maritime laws, she only had enough lifeboats to carry 1,178 people, which is about 53% of her total passengers on board.
The RMS Titanic leaving Southampton on April 10, 1912 - image from Wikipedia.

Most of the survivors come from those traveling in 1st class. About 62% of the 1st class passengers made it, whilst approximately 43% of the 2nd class passengers survived. Only 26% of the 3rd class passengers were saved from the incident! None of the ship musicians made it. Lessons learnt from this tragedy:
  1. Nothing is unsinkable, even space shuttles explode.
  2. Travel first class...better chance of survival.
  3. Never be a ship musician...You go down like Nero. They were the unsung heroes on board the ship.

An important outcome from this tragedy was the establishment in 1914 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which governs maritime safety up till today.

May they all rest in peace. Requiem aeternam, dona eis requiem aeternam.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Flat-Top Mille Graines - A Useful Weed

The Flat-Top Mille Graines (Corymbose Hedyotis/snake tongue grass - 伞房花耳草/傘房花耳草, sometimes called 水线草/水線草 or not so appropriately 伞房蛇舌草/傘房蛇舌草) is a common weed that will grow in any nook and cranny, provided there is ample moisture and enough light. Known as rumput mutiara (pearl grass) in Malaysia, it can withstand strong sunlight, but grows into a lush herb if grown in the shade. This plant is usually used in place of its more famous relative, the white-flowered snake tongue grass (白花蛇舌草).
Flat-Top Mille Graines, 伞房花耳草, 水线草, Old World Diamond-flower
Oldenlandia corymbosa L. (syn. Hedyotis corymbosa (L.) Lam), also commonly known as Old World Diamond-flower. The squarish stems and cymose inflorescence differentiates it from a close relative, O. diffusa.

The most obvious difference between the two plants (and is reflected in the specific epithet) is that Oldenlandia corymbosa has axillary cymose inflorescence whereas Oldenlandia diffusa have flowers that arise singly or rarely, in pairs from the leaf axil. The leaves of O. diffusa are also much narrower and snake-tongue like (linear-lanceolate), whereas O. corymbosa have distinctively more oblong-linear lanceolate leaves. O. corymbosa have up to 5 flowers per inflorescence that is small and white in colour, thin, and broadly tubular with 4-lobes. The use of this plant is well-documented in both traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine.
Oldenlandia corymbosa, 水线草, Old World Diamond-flower
Mature Oldenlandia corymbosa plant with flowers and fruit capsules.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), O. corymbosa and O. diffusa have overlapping characteristics, but are not the same. Whilst both are anti-inflammatory and anti pyrexic, the anti-neoplastic character is strongly attributed to O. diffusa but only slightly to O. corymbosa. TCM characteristics for O. corymbosa is 甘淡、微辛苦、寒 (lightly sweet, slightly acrid-bitter, cold) whereas for O. diffusa it is 苦,微甘, 微寒 (bitter, slightly sweet, slighly cold).
seedlings of Oldenlandia corymbosa, 水线草, Old World Diamond-flower
Seedlings of self-sown Oldenlandia corymbosa. On the top-center of the picture you can see branches of the plant with ripened fruit capsules that must have dropped many, many seeds into the pot below.

The whole plant of O. corymbosa is used either on its own or combined with other herbs for detoxification, as an antipyrexic, for malaria, inflammed bowel, appendicitis, inflammatory swelling, tonsillitis, laryngitis, bronchitis, urinary tract infections, burns, bruises and snakebites.

If you can collect a big bunch of O. corymbosa, a cooling, but almost tasteless tea can be brewed from the dried plant material. However, you will need to collect quite substantial amounts of O. corymbosa, wash and then dry it. If you are planning to use collected plants from roadsides or parks, do make sure that they have not been sprayed with chemicals. The easier way would be to go buy commercially available Oldenlandia tea from the supermarket, which is made from O. diffusa.

In the past, I have tried to sow and transplant this weed herb into containers to grow enough of it so that I can harvest it like a crop to make Oldenlandia tea. Unfortunately, they seemed to refuse any attempts of systematic cultivation forced upon them. Now, when I have no desire to grow them, lo and behold they sprout in almost every pot that I have on the balcony.
Oldenlandia corymbosa, 水线草 as a weed
Oldenlandia corymbosa taking over my Adenium pot! Also trying to muster in on some action is a strawberry runner.

The taxonomic position of Oldenlandia is somewhat unresolved. The genus Oldenlandia was created by Linnaeus in 1753 to honour the Danish botanist Henrik Bernard Oldenland. Some botanists do not recognise the genus Oldenlandia, and plants in this genus was transferred to the genus Hedyotis, thus Oldenlandia corymbosa becomes the basionym for Hedyotis corymbosa.

Recent works on the genus Hedyotis resulted in the members of that genus being narrowed down, making the genus Hedyotis monophyletic and resulted in the removal of many members that were previously placed  in Hedyotis, including H. corymbosa, H. diffusa and H. auricularia. So for now, they are back to Oldenlandia. The story does not end here, for the treatment of what plant should be in Oldenlandia may still change, since it is, as a genus, several time polyphyletic.

The information presented on this article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not the intention of the writer to advice on health care and the information listed on this page are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please see a medical professional about any health concerns you have.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012