Monthly Archives: February 2016

SAVE THE DATE! 11th annual Denver Master Gardener Plant Sale Saturday, May 14 8am-3pm and May 15th 10am-3pm

The 11th annual Denver Master Gardener Plant Sale will be held on Saturday, May 14 8am-3pm and May 15th 10am-3pm at the CSU Denver Extension office(888 E. Iliff Ave., Denver). Plants for sale will include heirloom tomatoes, NM chile, heirloom vegetables as well as colorful annuals and perennials. Stay tuned for more details!

Save the Date

In Celebration of Chocolate

“All You Need is Love. And A Little Chocolate Never Hurt Either.” Charles M. Schultz


As Valentine’s day approaches, let’s take a look at the plant from which chocolate, a beloved treat and frequent gift of the season, derives. Theobroma cacao (kah KOW) is  responsible for chocolate and was first cultivated over 2,000 years ago in Central America’s rainforest. The Aztecs called the plant “food of the gods,”  which Linneaus, the father of taxonomy, used to name the plant (Theo=god, broma=food). The seeds take three to five years to develop and were initially traded  as currency, then as a spicy drink mixed with chilies and vanilla. This beverage was coveted by the upper class, much as the finest wines are today!

From Plant to Sweet Indulgence

The cacao plant is pollinated by a small fly, called a midge, that lives on the forest floor. These midges have 1,000 wing beats per second, reported to be the fastest in the world. Once pollinated, the seed pods, which reach the size of footballs, develop directly from the trunk of the tree, a growth pattern called califlorius. The pods are ready for harvest when they turn yellow or orange, at which time they are picked by hand and cracked to expose a thick, milky white pulp which surrounds 30-50 seeds. The seeds are dried and fermented, often in the sun.

Once dried, a multi-step process begins to produce the chocolate products we consume today. As chocolate in its natural state is quite bitter, sugar and other additives are added to produce the flavor we love.

Is There Really A Love Connection?

Cacao is rich in caffeine and theobromine which act on the central nervous system and phenylethylamine, a chemical found in both chocolate and the human brain. It is hypothesized by some chemists that these factors may contribute to the belief in the chocolate-love mystic, however, solid evidence has not been found. Suffice it to say, popular culture and romantics everywhere can’t resist believing!

Want to Learn More?

Celebrate chocolate’s health benefits  in this article from CSU’s department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

See Theobroma Cacao in person in the conservatory of the Denver Botanic Gardens

Visit Chocolate: The Exhibition at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The exhibit was developed by The Field Museum in Chicago and runs from February 12 – May 8, 2016.

Written by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener with thanks to the Denver Museum of Natural History for the generous use of materials.

Photo Credits:

Chocolate Box:© 2002 Photodisc

Cacao Tree: © Robin Foster, The Field Museum

Broken Cacao Pod and Worker Drying Seeds: images used with permission of Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, Incorporated.













Living With Plants and Pets

20160126_123421[4]Keeping pets safe around house plants has been on my mind with the adoption of Chance, a charming, spirited feline. His only plant-related indiscretions (so far) have been a few nibbled leaves, a toppled jade and a snatched spider plant baby. Then there’s the twinkle in his eyes when he gazes up at the six-foot tall ficus tree, which makes me think he’s plotting something.

Ivy sitting by plants

Many find discouraging dogs and cats from digging or eating plants can be accomplished by moving plants to less trafficked areas; lightly covering the soil line with rocks, shells, or screening; sprinkling cayenne pepper or bitter apple spray around the leaves or lending the plant to a friend until the pet matures. Some cat owners grow wheat grass as a treat and a distraction from other plants.

If ingested by dog or cats, house plants can be toxic and trigger reactions ranging from mild discomfort (such as vomiting or diarrhea to release the toxin) to more serious illnesses. Some to be aware of are:

Dieffenbachia– Dogs and cats can react to eating leaves with intense burning in the tongue and mouth, difficulty swallowing, drooling and vomiting.

Corn Plant – the leaves contain saponin, which ingested in large amounts causes dogs and cats to vomit, lose appetite, have increased salivation and even show signs of depression. Cat’s pupils may also dilate.

Lillies – Many varieties, including peace lilies, are toxic to dogs and cats, although cats have more severe reactions including kidney failure and death if not treated. Easter  lilies and common florist varieties are very toxic to cats.


Peace Lilly

Often cat owners prefer not to bring lilies into their  homes.

Cyclamen – The tuber  (the pod-like structure just under the soil) contains the poison, not the leaves or flowers. Reactions can include abnormal heart rhythm and seizures.




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Jade – Dogs and cats react to eating the fleshy leaves by vomiting, or in more extreme cases by losing coordination and a lowered heart beat.

The ASPCA website contains a far more extensive list of toxic and nontoxic plants for both home and garden.

Should your pet become seriously ill from eating a plant, promptly contact your vet or the  ASPCA hotline,888-426-4435.

Pets frequently out grow their plant-loving stage as they mature, although avoiding the most toxic plants will give you peace of mind  and keep your friend from temptation.

Any suggestions for keeping pets safe around house plants? We’d love to hear from you.

Submitted by Linda McDonnell, Denver Master Gardener, with thanks to models Ivy and Chance.