Monday, November 24, 2014

Avocados with Black Strings



Why are some avocados stringy?

The strings in the fruit are vascular tissue, part of the conductive system of the plant bringing water and nutrients to the fruit.  They are always in the fruit but are unnoticeable in high quality fruit. From non-grafted trees, or seedlings where a genetic mix takes place, fruit can exhibit darkened, thicker strands as a natural characteristic, especially as it reaches maturity and beyond.  

These strands are usually the same color as the fruit pulp but can discolor or blacken for various other reasons. The most common reason is cold temperatures. This is true in avocado growing in areas like California where temperatures can reach freezing or below. Cold weather, however, would not apply to fruit growing in tropical regions such as the Hawaiian Islands. 

The blackened vascular tissue can also be caused by a disease. There are a number of fungi which enter an avocado at the stem end of the fruit.  Some of these pathogens will cause vascular discoloring as a precursor to decaying the flesh. 

These stem-end rotting fungi are present in the soil and on dead plant tissue and assist in the breakdown of organic matter. The spores of the fungi spread by wind and splashing water. This disorder is clearly made worse in a rainy environment. Infection typically occurs when the fruit is still on the tree, but it does not develop until after the fruit is picked due to anti-fungal compounds present in unripe fruit. Fruit will continue to decay as it ripens.


Control Measures For this Fungal Disorder 
  • Clean out dead limbs and twigs which helps to reduce the incidences of fruit rot.  
  •  Keep trees healthy with proper nutrients and water.
  • Maintain a thick layer of mulch under the tree’s canopy which will help to minimize the disease.   
  • Place avocados in the refrigerator after picking them, if not eaten soon. Caution: Temperatures below 41 degrees Fahrenheit can cause fruit injury in some varieties.
  •  Spray trees with a copper fungicide to limit infection if the problem is severe.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hummingbirds and Pollination





 

About 25% of plants are wind pollinated. The rest rely on pollinators: bees, bats, beetles, butterflies and yes, hummingbirds, as well as some other birds. During the day hummingbirds feed about every 10 minutes and consume up to 2/3 of their body weight from the nectar of plants; they can service 20 flowers per minute. The wings of hummingbirds beat up to 55 beats per second and allow these tiny birds to fly at speeds up to 50 mph. They can hover and even fly backwards or upside down. 

Hummingbirds are primarily attracted to tubular flowers. They are stimulated by color, especially the color red. Clumps of bright red, orange and pink flowers are more visible to them than other colors. Plants with red, tubular shaped flowers are an excellent choice in the garden to attract hummingbirds. Other plants that attract these birds are gladiolus, honeysuckle, iris, lupine, nasturtium, petunia, and cosmos. 

Lastly, I was asked if hummingbirds pollinate vegetables. I am having difficulty finding specific vegetables that they pollinate. That’s probably because there are not many vegetables with red, tubular shaped flowers, which attract the hummingbirds.  

Photo: University of Maine

Monday, November 10, 2014

Medicinal Teas of Hawaii: Mamaki and Ko’oko’olau



Mamaki (Pipturus albidus)  is a Hawaiian endemic plant occurring on all the main Hawaiian Islands except Ni'ihau and Kaho'olawe. It grows in moist to wet forests at elevations ranging from close to sea level to 6,000 feet. It can be considered a shrub or a small tree ranging in height from 6 to 20 feet tall.

Mamaki is a highly variable plant. The leaves are dark-green on the top and white to gray underneath, some varieties have reddish veins.  It is generally not suited for hot, dry coastal settings, but will grow well in urban landscapes with some shading. It will also do well planted in containers in part shade. The red-veined varieties appear to tolerate full sun better than green-leaved varieties. The mature plant recovers after pruning if no more than one-third is removed.

Plants are usually propagated from seed. The fruit can be ripened in a plastic bag to soften the pulp.  Seeds are then removed from the pulp by rubbing the fruits in a strainer under running water. The viable seeds will sink and the fruit pulp and other debris can be poured off. Seeds then need to be dried on a paper towel and stored. Once planted, seedlings will thrive in a well-draining soil in a semi-shaded to shaded location.  The plants can also be propagated from cuttings.   

Dried or fresh mamaki leaves are used to make a tea often drunk by those feeling lethargic. The tea is also used to help with many internal disorders such as for the stomach, colon, bladder, liver, and bowels.  The fruit is eaten as a laxative or for stomach, colon and digestive problems. Infused leaves can be used in treatment for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver problems, and bladder problems.  In some people mamaki can cause mild agitation or insomnia.



Mamaki is the primary food source for caterpillars of the native Kamehameha butterfly. Planting this shrub in the garden will provide food for the butterfly as well as a healthy, invigorating tea for the gardener.

Ko’oko’olau (Bidens menziesii) is in the sunflower or aster family.  It can be an annual or perennial shrub, ranging from 3 to 12 feet in height, growing in a wide range of habitats. The plant is found on Molokai and West Maui and on the leeward slopes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island.  It is easy to grow, preferring full sun and light to moderate watering. It grows well as a potted patio plant.

Ko’oko’olau was widely used by Hawaiians prior to European arrival. Its leaves were used as a revitalizing tea. Flowers were used to stimulate appetite. Today the tea is still sold; however, Bidens pilosa is often the species incorrectly labeled and sold as the traditional Hawaiian tea.