January 9, 2014

Consumer Q’s

Question: While watching the Tournament of Roses, the announcer showed some silver material on a float he said was “lunaria petals.”  What is lunaria? Can we grow it here?

Answer: Lunaria (Lunaria annua, sometimes listed as Lunaria biennis) is an annual or biennial flower also known as “honesty” and “money plant.” What the announcer described as petals were actually membranes from inside lunaria’s oval seed pods. This silvery membrane resembles a coin, hence “money plant” or a full moon, hence “lunaria.” “Honesty” probably is due to the fact that you can count exactly how many seeds are in the thin seed pods; the plant cannot deceive you or hide them from you.

Stalks of lunaria’s silvery membranes are popular in dried floral arrangements, left standing in the garden or used on a florally fabulous float in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

Lunaria is attractive with purple, rosy purple or white flowers and useful because it blooms in dappled shade. It is a good companion with azaleas and, like them, is a favorite of the Eastern tiger swallowtail.

Lunaria is easy to grow from seed, which is the main way to get a start as they are not often carried as plants at garden centers.

Q: It is five degrees outside. Some of my evergreens and other plants look so terrible I could cry. Has the cold killed them?

A: Many evergreens, especially broad-leaved evergreens such as camellias, English ivy, Algerian ivy, cast iron plant and rohdeas will turn a much darker color during extremely low temperatures and can look like they have been dipped in boiling water. The leaves on rhododendrons will even roll up like tubes. They will go back to their normal appearance when temperatures rise, probably with no damage.

That being said, plants that are marginally hardy in much of the state such as sago palm, spike dracaena and creeping fig may have done well during recent mild winters but can be damaged or killed by temperatures in the single digits. However, don’t start cutting them down or digging them up. Wait until spring to see if they sprout back. Even an evergreen plant that lost all its leaves may sprout back from the stem or base.

Milk-and-wine lilies and other crinums and amarcrinums usually keep a few green leaves at the top until a severe freeze. Now those leaves will look dead and mushy. Leave them alone. They will probably be fine and re-sprout in late spring.

Q: What are microgreens?

A: Microgreens are the young leaves and stems of lettuces and other vegetables, salad greens and salad herbs that are harvested when only an inch or two high and, depending on the species of plant and the growing conditions, a few weeks old. They are larger than what is usually sold as “sprouts” and smaller than what is usually sold as “baby greens.”

There is not an official definition or standard, however. What some people call “microgreens” others may call “sprouts” or “baby greens.” Among the plants that can be grown as microgreens are lettuce, beet, carrot, cabbage, collards, kale, orach, purslane, scallions, mustard greens, turnip greens, radish, arugula, endive, basil, celery, chard, sorrel and amaranth.  Seed companies and garden supply companies sometimes offer kits and mixes for gardeners to grow their own microgreens.

If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (arty.schronce@agr.georgia.gov) or visit the department’s website at www.agr.georgia.gov.


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