There was talk in the garden center, recently — a really juicy piece of gossip personally told to me by a customer. Now, I’m not one to gossip, but this is too huge to keep to myself . . .
Iguanas do not eat Desert Rose!
I may have mentioned iguanas once or twice in the past, maybe even gone on and on about how much they’ve ruined whatever flower I’ve planted, but that sentence makes me ecstatic! An actual plant that offends the polished palette of my reptilian invaders. It’s the sort of news that makes a boy re-imagine flowers in a flowerless backyard.
And imagining and more is exactly what I’ve done.
Desert Rose, a flowering succulent also known as Adenium obesum, presents a whole new world of gardening possibilities for me. A native of sub-Saharan Africa, the plant is quite drought tolerant and it’s nearly constantly in bloom.
I first purchased a plant (pictured above and at the top of this post) several years ago, and I have it in a terracotta pot near the front door. The front of my house is essentially my iguana-free zone and I assumed that because Desert Rose has flowers, I feared it could easily become another entrée in the smorgasbord that is my backyard.
If this customer was correct, though, I could introduce flowers to my backyard — but only if the customer was correct.
Before I left work that day, I purchased another Desert Rose. The only colors I had ever seen in the nurseries were red, pink, and a few bi-colors in the red and pink family. The one I purchased this day, though, was pale yellow with a raspberry swirl on the petals.
I placed the plant in the backyard, close to the seawall, which is where iguanas mostly travel — and I kept my eye on the plant. It lasted a day. It lasted two days. It lasted three days. There were a few nibbles, as if the iguanas sampled it and decided on something else, but the plant survived.
Then I started to think — Desert Rose could quickly get expensive. The starting price is usually around $10 and then it travels upward, depending on the size of the plant.
I investigated how to propagate with stem cuttings — and while it’s do-able, I would be limiting myself to red or yellow with the raspberry swirl.
Could there be seeds? I really wasn’t sure, since I had never seen anything resembling a seed or a seedpod on my own plants. (I have since learned I could help this along by manually pollinating the flowers.)
I turned to Ebay — and there I found a wonderland of Desert Rose seeds. There were so many colors, as well as single, double, and triple blooms, and bi-colors. I could easily have gone overboard. I mean, with so many varieties — how can a gardener choose?
Ultimately, I selected a seller based in Florida and chose two varieties: “Mahatap,” which is a reddish/pink double bloom, and “Ultraviolet,” which is exactly that. I convinced myself that I would start small — an experiment — and if it all worked out, I would return for more exotic colors.
Two packets, five seeds in each, soon arrived. I figured there would be no difference in planting these easy-to-handle seeds as when I planted geranium seeds. I took a look through YouTube for some basic instruction — just in case — and found inspiration in a video.
My soil was a store-bought mix for cactus and succulents. To this, I added more perlite so it would drain easily. Before planting the seeds, I moistened the soil so that it was better able to absorb water after planting and so it wouldn’t puff back into my face. The goal is to moisten it so that it holds together when squeezed.
I placed the seeds on the surface and I covered them very lightly. The soil must be kept warm — so late May in South Florida was perfect.
It’s important to water from below. This prevents the soil from compacting, making it easier for young roots to grow. If it’s necessary to water from above, use a spray bottle or the mist setting on a hose nozzle.
Within five days, all ten seeds sprouted.
Soon, their plump stems, or caudex, started to take shape, and their first true leaves appeared. They’ve grown so much since sprouting, that it’s time to gently place them in their own pots — and I have yet to see any nibbles on the tender green leaves.
Like I said, I’m not one to gossip — but when it’s about a flowering plant that iguanas seem to ignore — well, that’s the kind of news that a gardener can’t keep, shouldn’t keep, to himself.