Six on Saturday #45 (May 18, 2019)

The forecast for today is 91 F (32.8 C), and if we reach that temperature it will be the first time we have broken 90 F this year. May 15 is the average date of the first 90 degree day, so we are right on schedule.

1. Herbertia lahue subsp. lahue

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Herbertia lahue has three subspecies–H. lahue lahue, H. lahue amoena, and H. lahue caerulea–and a really odd distribution pattern. The first two subspecies are native to Argentina and Chile, while H. lahue caerulea (prairie nymph) grows along the gulf coast of the United States. This odd disjunct range is shared by several other bulbs and may indicate very early introduction of South American plants to Spanish colonies in North America.

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The flowers of H. lahue, like those of many irids, are very short lived, and the small stature of the plant makes them easy to overlook. Last year, I found a few seed capsules but didn’t see any flowers. This year, I missed the first flush of flowers, as indicated by the green capsule in the foreground, but I happened to walk past the plant just in time for the second flush.

Similar to its larger relatives Cypella herbertii and Cypella coelestis, H. lahue is remarkably cold hardy for a South American plant. It produces its tiny iris-like leaves in winter and goes dormant in early summer.

2. Penstemon murrayanus (scarlet beardtongue)

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This fantastic Penstemon grows naturally in scattered localities in east Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. I like the bizarre perfoliate leaves almost as much as the bright orange-red flowers. It’s not difficult to guess the pollinator–hummingbirds, of course.

Penstemon_murrayanus2

I planted a seedling last May, so this is the first time it has flowered in my garden. Hopefully it will produce seed after self-pollination. Penstemon digitalis (photo 5 of SoS #29) is blooming on the other side to the house, so I suppose hybridization is possible. It’s probably unlikely, though. The white flowers of P. digitalis are pollinated by bees, not hummingbirds.

3. Borago officinalis (borage)

borage

I don’t usually grow annuals, but I’ll make an exception for borage with its fuzzy buds and beautiful blue flowers. It’s one of the traditional garnishes for a Pimm’s No. 1 Cup…and now I’m getting thirsty.

4. Ocimum kilimandscharicum x O. basilicum (African blue basil)

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I picked this up at the Durham farmer’s market simply because we like to try different types of basil in the kitchen. I had no idea that it was such an interesting plant. African blue basil is a sterile hybrid of culinary basil (O. basilicum) and camphor basil (O. kilimandscharicum), If the second species epithet reminds you of “Kilimanjaro,” you’re not wrong. O. kilimandscharicum is native to east Africa. Unlike the the usual culinary basil varieties, which is easy to grow from seed, African blue basil must be propagated from cuttings. Apparently, it roots easily, flowers almost constantly, and is reliably perennial, though not frost hardy.

My wife thinks the African blue basil smells like regular sweet (Genovese) basil, but I detect a definite camphor fragrance that is presumably inherited from O.  kilimandscharicum.

5. Lonicera sempervirens forma sulphurea ‘John Clayton’

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‘John Clayton’ is, as you can see, a yellow clone of our usually red-flowered native coral honeysuckle (see photo 2 of SoS #26). It was originally planted on this pergola together with red L. sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’, but the voles ate ‘Major Wheeler.’ Hummingbirds and this gardener agree that red clones of L. sempervirens are better, but ‘John Clayton’ is growing and blooming so vigorously that I haven’t the heart to remove it and start over..

6. Teucrium marum (cat thyme) and Felis catus (moggie)

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Bly the cat and his sister Neem both really enjoy visiting the Teucrium marum that is growing in dry sandy soil beside the gravel path leading to my greenhouse. These pictures also illustrate how we let Bly go out in the garden without endangering the local lizards and birds (and without Bly becoming a snack for the coyotes). He tolerates the harness well, as long as the human trails along behind him rather than trying to lead him.

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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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Six on Saturday #44 (May 11, 2019)

Another Saturday, another six plants in the garden or greenhouse.

1. Vaccinium sp.

Vaccineum-sp2

This native species grows mainly under the deciduous trees at the north end of our property. I think it may be Vaccineum stamineum (deerberry), but V. stamineum reportedly grows 3-6 feet (1-2 m) tall. These plants form low, slowly spreading clumps no more than 1 foot tall (~30 cm) and usually less.

A second dwarf Vaccineum species, perhaps V. tenellum (narrowleaf blueberry) grows interspersed with the putative deerberry (see the first image here).

2. Tradescantia x Andersoniana cultivars (hybrid spiderworts).

Tradescantia x Andersoniana plants are hybrids of several North American spiderwort species. Given sufficient moisture, they grow well in partial shade to full sun and bloom beautifully from early May until well into June. The flowers are some of the best reasons for an early morning walk through the garden when it is still cool and wet with dew. Individual flowers are very short lived and usually collapse by early afternoon–or before noon on hot sunny days–but more flowers are open the next morning.  Bees and hoverflies love them.

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Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’

Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’, with its striking chartreuse foliage, is probably the most commonly available cultivar. The leaves of my plant seem to become more green later in the year–perhaps a response to increasing night temperatures?

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Tradescantia ‘Concord Grape’?

Last year, a local nursery received a large shipment of Tradescantia ‘Concord Grape’ plants which showed some variability in flower color. I picked one with the brightest magenta flowers for maximum contrast with the blue-green foliage.

I find these plants to be very difficult to photograph satisfactorily with a digital camera.  The flowers are usually over-saturated, and the color balance is often subtly wrong.

3. Amsonia tabernaemontana (eastern bluestar)

Amsonia_tabernaemontana

This member of the dogbane family (Apocynaceae) is a true piedmont native.  I grew it from seed obtained from the NC Botanical Garden seed distribution program.  The flowers are a very pale blue.

4. Calanthe tricarinata (monkey orchid)

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C. tricarinata finally bloomed, so now I can add it as an update to the Woodland Orchids post.  The flower of this species supposedly resembles a monkey.  I can’t see it.

5. Paphiopedilum niveum

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In the greenhouse, a miniature slipper orchid.  Paphiopedilum niveum grows on limestone in Thailand and peninsular Malaysia.  It is the easiest of the Brachypetalum paphs to grow, being much less susceptible to rot than its relatives like P. bellatulum or P. godefroyae.  My plant was purchased as a young seedling from the old Oak Hill Gardens nursery in Chicago, and it has been producing its cute little flowers every May or June since 2003.

6. Encyclia fowliei

Encyclia-fowlei

Encyclia fowliei is a pretty little epiphytic orchid from Bahia, Brazil which was described as recently as 1989.  I have two plants: one purchased for beaucoup d’argent when the species was difficult to find in cultivation, and a second purchased for pocket change a few years later when H & R Nurseries in Hawaii started selling vast quantities of seedlings.

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.

Eyed elater

Elater-1

This evening, as I was walking around the garden to see what I could see, I found one of my favorite North Carolina beetles.  This is Alaus oculatus, the eyed elater or eastern eyed click beetle.

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Click beetles are named for their defense mechanism:  a hinge in the thorax can be flexed rapidly,  propelling the insect high into the air with a loud click.  The smaller species are often quick to click, and it is always amusing to watch one jump and spin across the floor away from a bemused cat.

A. oculatus is the largest North American click beetle, and in my experience they rarely click unless seriously harassed.  When prodded, they seem to prefer folding in their legs and antennae to present a would-be predator with a hard carapace topped with those two threatening eye spots.  Perhaps the elongated body with disproportionately large “eyes” resembles the head of snake.

I sometimes stumble across the larvae of A. oculatus when investigating rotten logs for interesting fauna.  They are predators of other beetle grubs and look a bit like large flattened mealworms with menacing pincers.

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Woodland orchids

At the south end of my garden is a roughly rectangular flowerbed, approximately 15 x 22 ft (4.5 x 6.7 m), shaded by a mature dogwood tree (Cornus florida). The dogwood bed catches rainwater running off the lawn, so unlike most of the shaded areas in the garden, the soil is fairly moist. It has also been enriched with organic material, the legacy my past attempts to grow vegetables there (hint: veggies don’t grow well in shade). About four years ago, I started turning the dogwood bed into a shade garden planted primarily with woodland perennials from North America and those regions of Asia that have a climate similar to the piedmont. Pride of place in my somewhat haphazard planting scheme goes to orchids, most of which bloom in spring.

Calanthe

Chinese, Korean, and Japanese members of the genus Calanthe are some of the best orchids for shady piedmont gardens. They have beautiful flowers, tolerate transplanting well, and although they prefer moist, well drained soil, they are remarkably drought resistant when necessary. Their new growth is somewhat tender, but they do not seem to be as badly damaged by late frost as some other Asian orchids such as Bletilla striata.

Hardy Calanthe species and hybrids are rarely offered by specialist orchid nurseries, but they are sometimes sold by nurseries specializing in woodland perennials. I have planted four species (C. striata, C. tricarinata, C. discolor, and C. reflexa) and two hybrids (C. Takane and C. ‘Kojima Red’). C. tricarinata is currently in bud, and C. reflexa blooms later in the summer. The other plants are all flowering now.

Calanthe discolor

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Calanthe discolor

Calanthe discolor is generally considered one of the hardiest Calanthe species. Its natural range includes Hokkaido, the northernmost Japanese prefecture, and it is often rated for growing in USDA zone 6. It’s not a particularly colorful orchid, but it has a neat and tidy appearance. My plant, purchased from Montrose Garden, has pale green sepals and petals, but dark brown clones perhaps offer better contrast with the white lip. When dumped out of its pot, the plant fell apart into several divisions. I planted them separately, and they are multiplying rapidly, with each division producing several new pseudobulbs.

I really like the Japanese name for C. discolor: ebine, “shrimp root.”

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Calanthe striata

I previously featured C. striata under its synonym C. sieboldii. C. kawakamii is also considered a synonym for this species, although the Taiwanese plants with that label may prove to be less hardy than the Japanese plants labeled C. sieboldii.

C. striata is a significantly larger plant than C. discolor, with many-flowered inflorescences standing ~22 inches (56 cm) high. It has proven very vigorous in my garden; the plant had two inflorescences in spring 2017 and six this year.

Calanthe_Takane

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Calanthe Takane

Calanthe Takane, the hybrid of C. discolor and C. striata occurs naturally in Japan and has also been produced in cultivation. It is intermediate in size between its two parents and variable in color. I really like this clone with its yellow lip from C. striata and its sepals and petals darkened to orange by the influence of C. discolor. C. Takane supposedly benefits from hybrid vigor, but my plant produces a single new growth each year and shows no inclination to multiply like its parent species.

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Calanthe ‘Kojima Red’

‘Kojima Red’ seems to be an informal name, not a registered grex. Its parentage includes Calanthe discolor, C. striata, C. tricarinata, and C. aristulifera. Although richly colored, the flowers are barely the size of C. discolor.  I think I prefer the species and C. Takane.

Update, May 11, 2019:

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Calanthe tricarinata

In flower and plant size, Calanthe tricarinata is roughly equivalent to C. discolor and ‘Kojima Red’.  The flowers nod, so a viewer mostly sees their backs.   I have to tilt them up to get a good look at the lip.  The flower supposedly resembles a monkey’s face.  I can’t see it..

Cypripedium

North Carolina is home to about 70 orchid species and natural hybrids, but most of the really attractive plants grow in sunny habitat in the mountains or coastal plain. The majority of orchids in the piedmont woods have little whitish or greenish flowers that would only appeal to a confirmed orchidoholic. The exceptions are our two native lady’s slipper orchids, Cypripedium acaule (pink lady’s slipper, moccasin flower) and Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens (large yellow lady’s slipper). I have previously discussed the wild populations of these species that grow nearby.

C. acaule is notoriously difficult to transplant and grow in the garden long-term, but C. parviflorum var. pubescens is generally considered to be one of the easiest lady’s slippers to cultivate. For years, I have itched to add one of the latter to my garden. Last autumn I splurged and bought a blooming-size plant.

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Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens

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I expected to get a single-growth division that might give me one flower this year. Instead, the plant has produced five flowers on four new growths. I’m not sure if I’ll be able keep it going long term–a potential complication is that although the species is native to the NC piedmont, most of the plants in cultivation probably originate from more northern populations–but the size and vigor of this particular plant surely gives me a head start.

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Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens

This actually isn’t my first attempt to grow C. parviflorum. Long, long ago, when I lived in Michigan, I kept a seedling of Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin in a pot on my windowsill. This northern variety did remarkably well in the relatively cool climate of Ann Arbor, steadily increasing in size and reliably producing small but highly fragrant flowers.  Unfortunately, it really did not appreciate the move from Michigan to North Carolina. One hot summer it went dormant early and never sprouted the next spring.

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My late, lamented Cypripedium parviflorum var makasin in 2001.  I loved the dark, corkscrew petals, and it was ideal for growing in a small pot. The flower’s pouch was only about the size of my thumbnail.

About fifteen years later, I’m trying another Cypripedium species in a pot:  the Taiwanese Cypripedium formosanum.

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Cypripedium formosanum

I originally planned to plant this C. formosanum in the dogwood bed, but several sources suggested that it has a tendency to start growing in late winter and is badly damaged by frost. I decided it would be safest to grow it in a pot, at least until it is large enough to divide, even though it may be tricky to keep the roots cool in mid-summer.

Six on Saturday #43 (April 27, 2019

This week, Six on Saturday is a doubleheader.  In addition to this miscellaneous S.O.S., I also have a post describing six woodland orchids.

The storms last Friday evening (April 19) were a reminder of how local–and how unfair–our weather can be, particularly during the warmer months.  A strong band of storms moved through in the late afternoon, and I was anxious about the possibility of hail and tree-destroying wind.  In the end, we had about half an inch of rain, no hail, and no wind damage. It was a different story just five miles away, where an EF2 tornado touched down.  A member of the local orchid society lives in its path.  He lost many mature hardwood trees, including  a massive hickory that came down on his orchid greenhouse and another that punched a hole in a 1000-gallon propane tank.  With so many old trees down, his woods won’t fully recover in our lifetimes.

I am grateful that I still have a garden to photograph:

1. Rhododendron species

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These flowers aren’t looking their best after heavy rain

I have lost the tag for this plant and can’t remember if it is R. canescens (piedmont azalea) or R. periclymenoides (pinxter flower).  Both are native to North Carolina, but R. periclymenoides is widespread in the piedmont forest, while R. canescens is found only in a few coastal plain counties (despite its common name).

Does anyone know how to tell the two species apart?

2. Rhododendron flammeum ‘Red Inferno’ (Oconee azalea)

Rhodo_flammeum

The common name for this species should be flame azalea, but that name gets applied to Rhodonendron calendulaceum instead .  The cultivar name doesn’t lie, though.  R. flammeum is one of those species that nurseries sell as “native,” even though its actual native range consists of a few counties in Georgia and South Carolina, hundreds of miles from North Carolina.

3. Emerging leaf of Ligularia japonica ‘Chinese Dragon’

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I did a double-take when I saw this bizarre structure.  Somehow, I have never before noticed how odd the leaves of ‘Chinese Dragon’ look before they spread open.

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I love everything about this plant and have previously featured it in Six on Saturday #2 and #21.  I am pleased that it has produced a few volunteer seedlings which have inherited the deeply cut foliage.

4. Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon’s seal)

Polygonatum_biflorum

Our little native Solomon’s seal grows wild in scattered locations around our property, usually in dry soil under deciduous trees. The best colonies seem to be under hickory trees. Hickories produce toxic juglone, albeit in smaller quantities than the infamous black walnut, so perhaps the Solomon’s seal have less competition from other plants in those locations. If you are trying to find juglone-resistant plants to grow under a black walnut, Polygonatum species might be worth trying.

5. Polygonatum humile (dwarf Solomon’s seal)

Polygonatum_humile

Polygonatum humile, a species from east Asia (China, Korea, Japan) grows well in our climate. These are under a dogwood tree. They stand only 5 inches (13 cm) tall and have none of the arching grace of the larger species. They’re cute, though.

6. Fritillaria imperialis (crown imperial)

Fritillaria_imperialis

This plant, framed by a huge old patch of Lycoris squamigera, was blooming in my mother-in-law’s garden in Pennsylvania on Easter Sunday.  I have tried growing F. imperialis several times without success.  Occasionally, the bulbs produce some sickly, stunted foliage for a year or two, but they never flower.  Perhaps we have the wrong soil or climate.

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.