Six on Saturday #40 (March 16, 2019)

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Naturalized daffodils (Narcissus) beside the old chimney

Compared to the last few years, this winter has been wet but very mild.  The winter storms that brought record cold to the Midwest didn’t make it this far south, and our low temperature was 17-18 F (-8 C), a full 10-15 degrees warmer than the lows during the past three or four winters.  There is still the possibility of frost, or even another hard freeze, but spring seems well under way.

1-3.  Various Narcissus

At this time of year, the dominant color is the bright yellow of Narcissus.  The old heirloom bulbs that are naturalized throughout the woods at the sites of old cabins or farmhouses have almost finished flowering, but beside the old chimney a few of the plants are still in decent shape.  These classic daffodils have a bright yellow corona and paler yellow petals that are slightly twisted like propellers.

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In my garden, I have some that came from a friend who lives in a century-old farmhouse.  They appear identical to the plants beside the old chimney, and I suspect they are all a form of Narcissus pseudonarcissus.

Narcissus are one of the few plants that I can grow outside the deer fence, so I have been attempting to naturalize several varieties along our side of the lane.  Rabbits and deer won’t touch them, not even to experimentally nip off the flower buds as they do to so many other supposedly noxious flowers.

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The swept-back petals of Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ come from its parent N. cyclamineus. I planted these bulbs last autumn.
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Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’ is another dwarf N. cyclamineus hybrid.  It often has two or three flowers per inflorescence.
trumpet
I planted about fifty of these large trumpets several years ago, but only half a dozen remain.  The survivors are in lean soil that dries well during the summer, while the dead ones were in rich organic soil where a mulch pile had rotted down. Similar clones do very well elsewhere in the garden, but usually in heavy clay with minimal organic matter.

Update:  Yes, that’s four Narcissus, not three.  I never claimed to be good at mathematics.

4. Anemone coronaria ‘The Governor’

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Last autumn I planted ten Anemone coronaria tubers, and they have been growing slowly through the winter.  Most are still in bud, but one precocious plant has been blooming for several weeks.  That is, a single flower has been opening and closing, depending on the temperature and sunlight, for several weeks.  I am really impressed by the longevity of the flower, but it remains to be seen whether the plants will persist over the summer and how they will do during colder winters.

5. Hippeastrum ‘Ruby Star’

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In the greenhouse, the enormous, but short-lived, flowers of Hippeastrum ‘Ruby Star’ were open this week.  H. ‘Ruby Star’ is a hybrid of H. papilio x (H. vittatum x H. cybister) which seems to be a natural winter grower.  When not recovering from shipping, it flowers after the foliage has matured and goes dormant by mid summer.

6.  Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum buds.  A long wait…

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One half-open flower and one bud with the petals just starting to emerge.

Some orchid flowers seem to appear suddenly out of nowhere, but others really make you wait.  There seems to be a definite correlation between the amount of time that a flower takes to develop and its longevity, .  The south Asian slipper orchids, Paphiopedilum, are some of the slowest.  It can take months for an inflorescence to emerge from among the leaves and slowly elongate, and then the buds open over the course of a week or more.  When these P. hirsutissimum buds are completely open, I can reasonably expect the flowers to remain in good shape for six to eight weeks, perhaps longer.

The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.

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Dendrobium lindleyi

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I’m pretty pleased with this flowering, but my plant has a very long way to go before it can rival this awarded specimen.

Dendrobium lindleyi is a dwarf epiphyte whose native range extends from Bangladesh and Assam through Southeast Asia to southern China.  This species, called D. aggregatum in older literature, often seems to turn up in books about orchid growing as an example of a species requiring a distinct dry dormancy to trigger flowering.  Apart from that one quirk, it is relatively easy to grow.  D. lindleyi is often grown in baskets or mounted on cork bark, but my plant is potted in Aliflor (expanded clay aggregate) which dries very rapidly after watering.  During the summer, while the new pseudobulbs are growing, I hang the pot from the edge of my shade house where it receives full sun for much of the day.  As long as the weather stays dry, I leave it out in autumn until the nights drop into the mid 40s F (6-8 C), but I don’t let it stay out in cold wet weather.  Back in the greenhouse, I hang it high in the rafters on the side without shade cloth and basically forget about it for most of the winter.  If the pseudobulbs shrivel, I might give it a little water every six weeks or so, but mostly it survives on humidity.  Et Voila.  This is the result.

Greenhouse volunteers

In horticulture, a volunteer is a plant that sprouts and grows without any action by the gardener.  The implication is that volunteers are desirable plants, which distinguishes them from undesirable weeds.  There’s sometimes a fine line between the two.  In my outdoor garden, Vernonia glauca (broadlead ironweed), Poncirus trifoliata (trifoliate orange), and Callicarpa americana are a little too enthusiastic about seeding around.  When another gardener wants to trade for the seedlings, they’re volunteers.  When I have to dig them out of the wrong flower bed, they’re weeds.

In my greenhouse, several species have established themselves as volunteers.  They can pop up almost anywhere, but they never choke out the rightful inhabitant of the pot and are very interesting in their own right.

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Dorstenia foetida (Lav. 20542).  This seedling has volunteered in the pot of a Hydnophytum formicarum.

Dorstenia is a genus of the Moraceae, the fig family, with very interesting anatomy.  Its inflorescences are basically equivalent to an open, flattened fig (or a fig is a Dorstenia inflorescence folded in on itself). The almost microscopic flowers grow in a fleshy structure that is often surrounded by finger-like extensions. After pollination, a seed is produced in a little vesicle and, when ripe, shoots out with considerable force, often landing in pots several feet away.  Over the years, I have grown half a dozen different Dorstenia species, but the most frequent volunteers are D. foetida and D. barnimiana.  Both species are from east Africa and Arabia.  D. foetida grows thick, upright stems with star-shaped inflorescences produced throughout the year.  D. barnimiana is a geophyte with a biscuit-shaped underground tuber and deciduous leaves that lie flat on the soil surface.  Its inflorescences are more elongated and have fewer extensions than those of D. foetida.

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Dorstenia barnimiana tubers exposed by dumping off the top-dressing of gravel.  During the winter dormancy, the tubers are leafless and easy to overlook when they grow completely below the soil surface.
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Dorstenia barnimiana leaves at the base of Hydnophytum formicarum.
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Dorstenia barnimiana inflorescence.  Multiple vesicles, each containing a ripening seed, are visible.

The habit of shooting ripe seeds around the greenhouse is shared by Euphorbia platyclada, a truly bizarre plant from Madagascar.  E. platyclada is completely leafless, and its jointed stems look half dead at the best of times.  Depending on much light they receive E. platyclada stems can be mottled green, brown, or bright pink.  Stems of the latter color resembles coral more than a plant.  E. platyclada isn’t as prolific as the Dorstenia species, and I have been very pleased to find a few volunteers.

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Euphorbia platyclada volunteering in the pot of Pachypodium decaryi, another native of Madagascar.

Instead of shooting seeds, Psilotum nudum (whisk fern) produces tiny spores which drift on the breeze of the greenhouse fans.  This is the only greenhouse volunteer that I didn’t originally purchase.  The first plant arrived as a stowaway in the pot of a Vachellia cornigera (bullhorn acacia) from a local botanical garden.  It has since appeared in several other locations around the greenhouse, but it is so interesting that I don’t begrudge it the space.  Psilotum is a genus of primitive fern-like plants that lack true leaves and roots and have a fascinating life-history similar to that of ferns.  The sporophyte of P. nudum has a creeping underground rhizome that sprouts green stems tipped with yellowish spore-producing synangia.  The spores hatch into a subterranean gametophyte which, when mature, releases eggs and sperm cells.  Union of egg and sperm results in a new photosythetic sporophyte.

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Volunteer Psilotum nudum growing at the base of Vachellia cornigera

P. nudum (Matsubaran) has been cultivated in Japan for hundreds of years.  See the Primitive Ferns blog for further details on the many cultivars.

Six on Saturday #39, February 23, 2019

It’s hard to believe that it has been three months since I last managed to get a Six on Saturday post together. The past week has been gloomy and wet outside, so here are six plants that are currently flowering in my greenhouse.

1. Paphiopedilum Fanaticum

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Paphiopedilum x fanaticum is the natural hybrid of Paphiopedilum malipoense and P. micranthum.  When the same cross is produced in cultivation, the plants are designated Paphiopedilum Fanaticum.  This isn’t the greatest photo–light levels were low, and the flower is still opening–but I think you can see that the plant is aptly named.  Anyone who is subject to orchidelirium will likely be a fanatic for Paph. Fanaticum.

2. Epidendrum cf. schlechterianum

Epi_schlechterianum

E. schlechterianum is miniature orchid found from Costa Rica to northern South America (Peru, Colombia, Brazil).  Alternatively, E. schlechterianum grows only in Panama, and a group of closely related species–E. congestum, E. congestioides, E. oxynanodes, E. schizoclinandrium, E. serruliferum, and E. uleinanodes–are found elsewhere.  It all depends on which botanist you believe.  In any case, this is a bizarre little plant with flowers that are almost the same color and texture as the semi-succulent leaves that cover its creeping stems.  It grows well mounted on a chunk of treefern fiber and watered once or twice a week.

3. Dendrobium speciosum var. pedunculatum

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Some forms of the Australian Dendrobium speciosum grow so large that a forklift is required to move them, but D. speciosum var. pedunculatum is a dwarf variety.  My plant has been growing happily in a 4-inch (10 cm) diameter terracotta pot for the past five years, and its pseudobulbs are only slightly larger than my thumb.  In summer, it lives outside in almost full sun.  In winter, I keep it in the brightest end of the greenhouse and reduce watering to once every two or three weeks.

4. Utricularia sandersonii (Sanderson’s bladderwort)

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Although its flowers look vaguely orchid-like, Utricularia sandersonii is a terrestrial bladderwort, a carnivorous member of the family Lentibulariaceae native to South Africa.  It grows in saturated soils, where its underground bladder traps can capture and digest protists or rotifers that are small enough to swim between the soil grains.  The leaves of U. sandersonii are a couple of millimeters long, and the flower, which looks a bit like a long-tailed rabbit (or maybe a bilby), is about 1 cm from top to bottom.

I grow U. sandersonii in a small pot sitting in water almost up to the surface of the soil (a mix of peat and silica sand).  After a few years, it forms a thick tangle of stolons and starts to deteriorate, perhaps because the supply of protists or trace elements in the soil has been exhausted.  At that point, propagation is simply a matter of tearing off a chunk of soil/stolons and using it to inoculate a new pot of soil.

5.  Hippeastrum striatum

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H. striatum is a smallish species from southern Brazil.  Its bulbs, leaves, and flowers are all much smaller than the big hybrid hippeastrums that are sold as “Amaryllis” at Christmas time, and I think it is better suited to cultivation in pots.

6. Cyrtanthus (species?  hybrid?)

Cyrtanthus

This plant grew from seed that I purchased as Cyrtanthus stenanthus, but it appears to have been mislabeled.  It seems to want grow in winter/spring and goes dormant in hot weather.

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator.  Head over there to see his Six for this week and to find links to the blogs of other participants.

The fragrance of spring…in winter

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Pendant inflorescences of Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia chrysantha, the paperbush, seems to be making the transition from rare collectors’ item to a garden staple that can regularly be found in garden centers.  That’s all to the good, because it is a wonderful plant for piedmont gardens.  It is one of the four best shrubs to grow for winter fragrance–the others being Osmanthus fragrans (tea olive), Lonicera fragrantissima (winter honeysuckle), and Chimonanthus praecox (wintersweet)–and for architectural interest, it beats those other three species hollow.

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The buds open around the outside edge of the inflorescence first.

Edgeworthia forms a perfect dome of thick, flexible branches that are covered with large green leaves in summer. The leaves drop after the first freeze, around the time that the fuzzy flower buds begin to swell, so by late December the bare branches appear to be tipped by silvery Christmas ornaments.  The flowers open from mid February to mid March in central North Carolina and fill the garden with their fragrance.  Currently both Edgeworthia and Lonicera fragrantissima are blooming in my garden.  The Edgeworthia fragrance seems sweeter, and the Lonicera more lemony, but both are wonderful.  If we don’t have a hard freeze in the next ten days they should be joined by the apricot fragrance of Osmanthus fragrans.  My Chimonanthus is still too small to bloom, but in a few years February should smell amazing.

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A few days after the flowers open, their yellow petal tips fade to white, so an older inflorescence has yellow flowers at the center and white ones around the rim.

Edgeworthia seems to grow reasonably well in dry shade, but my best specimen grows where it receives rainwater channeled from the end of the driveway and is exposed to direct sun until mid afternoon.

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A small specimen growing in dry soil at the edge of the woods.
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My larger plant growing in constantly damp soil at the southwest corner of the house.
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The same plant in March 2011

Some websites suggest that Edgeworthia buds can be destroyed by temperatures in the low teens (Fahrenheit), but my plants of the common yellow-flowered variety have tolerated low single-digits with no damage to either buds or branch tips.  The orange-flowered form does seem to be more cold sensitive.  A small specimen that I planted was frozen to the ground several years in a row and failed to come back last spring.

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The common name, paperbush, apparently comes from its use as a source of fiber for Chinese and Japanese paper, although I can’t imagine how anyone could bear to grind up an Edgeworthia for anything so mundane as paper pulp.