Son Of Seed Mustache From Space

A long time ago— May, actually — in a galaxy far, far away— just outside of the front door — an alien-looking seed mustache from space appeared on the tip of a desert rose branch. That was the general gist of an earlier post — but after a couple of months, my sci-fi fantasy that is South Florida gardening has become, “Captain, the pod doors have opened.”

To learn more about desert rose seed harvesting, I turned to YouTube and discovered gardeners in India. All recommended for the seedpod to remain on the plant until it turned brown and split open. Some suggested wrapping twine around the pod to prevent seeds from escaping after the split, while others just kept a close eye for any changes to the pod. That’s what I decided to do.

After the original post, I examined the seedpod on a daily basis. The vibrant green color dulled a bit, but there wasn’t a split. All in good time, I kept telling myself — and one morning, there it was. The pod had aged. It had browned. Both handles of the seed mustache had split open.

The YouTubers then recommended that I remove the entire seedpod and place it in a plastic container or a paper bag — and then to keep that in a dry place for a few days. After cutting the pod from the plant, I lowered it into a paper bag, brought it into the house, and waited.

Within a few days, seeds emerged from the pod.

Looking more like a fly-fishing lure, each seed had a hard center with flaxen-colored, silky hairs on the ends to carry it on the wind — and that’s the reason some YouTubers wrap twine around the pod. With the slightest breeze, valuable seeds could sail away.

Following the experts’ advice, I cleaned the seeds by removing the hairy parachutes.

At this point, I treated the seeds as I would any other seed I planted. To begin, I supplemented the medium with more vermiculite to help with drainage. Desert rose is a succulent and too much water can kill a plant. I then covered the seeds with a light layer of soil.

One of the many things I’ve noticed about Florida gardening is that seeds seem to germinate quickly. I think it has to do with 24-hour heat, especially during the summer months. Two days after planting, one seed sprouted and unfurled its cotyledons, its first leaves. In the days that followed, more emerged.

All in all, 12 of the 16 seeds germinated — and I have to admit, I think these seedlings are the cutest seedlings I’ve ever seen. Thick and squat, they remind me of the trees in a “Flintstones” cartoon.

Once each tender plant had a set of true leaves, I used a popsicle stick to ease them from the communal pot.

Holding each plant by its first leaves, I repotted each one into its own home.

Now that my close encounter with the Seed Mustache From Space has come to an end, I’m a bit relieved that it went so well, that it was really just an earthly seedpod and not some alien invader. Otherwise, I could have ended up like the Kevin McCarthy character in the sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers:

Instead, I’m thinking of the adventure and wonder that gardening is and the excitement of trying something new and learning along the way. To paraphrase from “Star Trek,” one of my favorite sci-fi series, I can honestly say, “I’ve boldly gardened where I’ve never gone before.”

Field Trip: Tree Tops Park

When I first heard of Tree Tops Park, I imagined a public park with treehouses and tree walkways to give visitors a bird’s-eye view among the branches and canopy. In reality, the only thing to climb is an observation tower — otherwise, visitors keep their feet on the ground and look upward. No matter how you look at them, though, the trees at Tree Tops Park are tops.

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Field Trip: Fern Forest Nature Center

Hidden beneath the asphalt and manicured communities, the condo towers and man-made canals of southeastern Florida, there is Old Florida — very, very Old Florida.  It’s the Florida that existed long before Henry Flagler built the railroad that opened this region of the state to developers.  It is, perhaps, the Florida that greeted the first settlers.

That idea is what inspired a group of scientists from Florida Atlantic University and Broward Community College.  It was 1979, and their article, “A Tropical Fern Grotto In Broward County,” was published in the American Fern Journal.  That 247-acre grotto was actually a remnant of how Broward County once looked.  More than 30 species of ferns were found living among  200+ species of other plants, all of which inhabited swamp forests, hammocks, pinelands, and prairie ecosystems.

As a result, the land was made a Designated Urban Wilderness Area and named Fern Forest Nature Center.  Walking through the habitat, on both boardwalks and natural paths, allows visitors to take a step back in Florida history.

Much of Florida sits on limestone. Here, large moss-covered chunks make up the floor of the habitat.

The prairie habitat is adjacent to . . .

. . . the swamp habitat, where the leaves of swamp plants resemble leaves on the reflected branches.

Just about ready to bloom.

A convict caterpillar, which will eventually become a Spanish moth.

Cypress trees make up a large number of the plants growing in the swamp forest. They’re easy to identify because of their “knees.”

A close-up of cypress knees.

Air plant colonies are well established along the branches of many of the trees.

More air plants.

The habitat provides food and shelter for wildlife, either alone . . .

. . . or the whole family.

Fern spores on the underside of a frond.


Vines are quite happy here.

I’m not sure of this plant’s identity (it could be the invasive Brazilian Pepper Tree) — I just thought it looked like it was ready for the holidays.

Fern Forest Nature Center is located at 201 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek, FL 33063. It’s open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., seven days a week, except for some holidays. Check out their calendar for various events.