Six on Saturday #6

After missing several weeks due to traveling, I’m back with Six on Saturday.  As always, check The Propagator’s blog for links to other garden bloggers who are also posting their six.

1. Lycoris radiata var. pumila (hurricane lily, red spider lily)

Lycoris radiata
Lycoris radiata var. pumila

Hurricane lilies (really amaryllids, not true lilies) are so named because because they bloom in late summer–hurricane season in the southeastern United States.  The classic heirloom bulb of southern gardens is Lycoris radiata var. radiata, a sterile triploid introduced from Japan in the mid 1800s.  It blooms in late August, and my bulbs are still slumbering underground.  L. radiata var. pumila is a fertile diploid, presumably the original wild type form native to China.  For some reason, these plants consistently bloom a few weeks earlier than the triploids.

L. radiata is one of the winter-foliage Lycoris.  Shortly after blooming it produces a rosette of leaves that persist all winter, dying back in late spring.  Since the plant grows in winter, it is less hardy than the spring-foliage types like those I discussed in a previous Six on Saturday, and I’m not sure it would do well much further north than North Carolina.

2.  Zephyranthes candida (white rain lily)

Zephyranthes candida
Zephyranthes candida (white rain lily)

After dry weather for most of July, August has been quite wet, and the rain has induced several rain lily species to bloom.  This is Zephyranthes candida, originally from southern South America but now more widely naturalized.  Superficially, it resembles a smaller version of the piedmont native Z. atamasco, but while Z. atamasco blooms in spring, Z. candida–like many tropical Zephyranthes–blooms in summer a few days after rain.

3.  Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower)

Lobelia cardinalis
Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis is native to the piedmont and can sometimes be found growing in sun or part shade along creeks or beside ponds.  Hummingbirds absolutely love the flowers.  These are volunteer plants originating from very tiny seed that drifted from a plant that I put in a flowerbed about twenty feet away.  After several years, I now have about a dozen blooming plants.  The best ones have taken root in wet soil at the point where the foundation and gutter drains empty, down-slope from the house.  I have been thinking about building a pond or bog garden there, but for now it is just a wilderness of Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium viminium), interspersed with these shocking red spikes.

Last week, while we were on holiday in eastern Maine, I saw some wild plants blooming along a stream close to the Canadian border, about 600 miles (965 km) north of my garden in North Carolina.  I find it interesting that the plants in both locations bloom at exactly the same time, despite the longer growing season and warmer temperatures here in the south.

4. Hedychium coronarium (white butterfly ginger)

Hedychium coronarium

This ginger from the foothills of the himalayas is probably the hardiest and most vigorous ornamental ginger for cultivation in the NC piedmont.  The stems grow about 6′ (1.8 m) tall, and the fragrance of the flowers is amazing.  Unlike my cannas, which look pretty ratty after being chewed on all summer long by Japanese beetles and canna leaf roller caterpillars, the foliage of this H. coronarium is always pristine.

5.  Fuchsia ‘Sanihanf’

Fuchsia 'Sanihanf'
Fuchsia ‘Sanihanf’

After my paternal grandfather retired, he grew fuchsias in his garden and greenhouse in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  I wanted to remember grandpa by growing them in my garden too, but most fuchsias expire from the heat before spring is half over in North Carolina.  This Japanese hybrid, which was advertised as heat tolerant, seems to be the real deal.  I bought it in April 2016, so it has now survived two NC summers and continues to bloom even when the days are in the 90s (32-37 C) and nights don’t drop below 70 (21 C).  It might survive the winter outside in a sheltered spot, but not wanting to risk it, I grow it in a hanging pot and keep it in the greenhouse in cold weather.

6. Lilium formosanum (Formosa lily)

Lilium formosanum

Most L. formosanum bulbs produce a single stem topped with four or five flowers, but this plant has branched and re-branched to produce a large cluster of flowers.  The stems are slightly flattened and wider than usual, so I think it may be abnormal fasciation (cresting).

I started with two bulbs about eight years ago, but every year I scatter seed around, and now there are flowering plants throughout the garden.

6b.  flower crab spider (Thomisidae)

IMG_7559 crop
Crab spider, perhaps Misumenoides formosipes,  in ambush

While trying to decide which photo of L. formosanum to use, I realized that I had inadvertently photographed a little white crab spider that was hiding inside one of the lily flowers.  Some species can change color to match the flower they are sitting on and are capable of capturing quite large prey.  I’m not sure if she would be strong enough to tackle one of the big sphinx moths that pollinate L. formosanum, but I have seen similar spiders ambush and consume swallowtail butterflies


Spiders of autumn

Argiope aurantia
Argiope aurantia

A sign that we are definitely in late summer, inching inexorably towards autumn:  yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) have started to spin their webs among the flower beds.  Every year, they seem to appear suddenly out of nowhere, but I suppose they have been present all spring and summer and have finally become large enough for me to notice.  They are still not full size and will grow noticeably bigger and fatter in the next month.

They seem to love to spin their webs in the lantana bushes, where they capture many butterflies.

Sometimes they catch bigger prey.

One morning last September, I noticed that the cats were intent on something squeaking pathetically in a large Lantana ‘Miss Huff’.  It was a hummingbird trapped in the web of a very large garden spider.   In this somewhat blurry photo, the spider is at the top of the frame, slowly descending her web towards the trapped bird.

Where is Bilbo Baggins wielding Sting when you need him?

At first I thought that I was too late and the bird had already been bitten, because when I pulled it from the web, it just lay quivering in the palm of my hand.


I was trying to decide if I needed to administer the coup de grâce, when I realized that the bird was immobilized by a few strands of almost invisible spider silk.  After I carefully removed the threads from its wings and tail, it sat up in my hand and then zoomed away into the trees.

If you have a strong stomach, a web search will turn up photos of less fortunate hummers, so if you have a hummingbird feeder or plants that attract them, it might be a good idea to relocate garden spiders that build their webs to close to the flight paths.


Sometimes you grow a plant for three years, and it finally decides to bloom just as you are going out of town for a week.

As we were rushing around making last minute preparations to leave for the airport, I noticed these buds emerging from a northern spiderlily bulb (Hymenocallis occidentalis).


Although Hymenocallis are tough, long lived bulbs, their flowers subscribe to the philosophy “live fast, die young.”  I was convinced that by the time we got home, I’d find nothing but a wilting inflorescence topped by shriveled, brownish tissue.  A cold front that dropped the temperature below 90 F may have helped to prolong the life of the flowers, because when we arrived home yesterday I found that the blooms weren’t completely senescent.  They had sustained significant damage from heavy rain, but I think you can still appreciate the fireworks-like quality of the mass of spidery flowers.


The genus Hymenocallis ranges from the southeastern United States to northern South America, and as its common name suggests, H. occidentalis is the northernmost species, growing from northern Florida to eastern Texas and up the Mississippi valley as far as southern Illinois and Indiana.  H. occidentalis often grows in moist woodland, so it is probably one of the best members of the genus for garden cultivation, particularly in the north.  Other U.S. species grow in wetlands or rivers as emergent water plants and would probably require a pond or bog garden.

Coastal Carolina spiderlily (Hymenocallis crassifolia) blooming in late May
I found these H. crassifolia plants growing in the Lumber river in southeastern North Carolina, near the South Carolina state line.

Some of the Mexican or Caribbean species (e.g. H. ‘Tropical Giant’) grow well in regular garden conditions and are fairly hardy if planted deep and mulched well.  In my garden, I also grow the Mexican species H. pimana and H. ‘New Lion’, a plant of uncertain identity (species or hybrid?) originating from a garden in somewhere in Nuevo León, Mexico.  Because its flowers open sequentially, it blooms over a longer period than H. occidentalis but is not so spectacular.

Hymenocallis ‘New Lion’

I also grow H. traubii, a miniature wetland species native to Florida, in a pot that I sit in a tray of water.  It seems to produce only two flowers per inflorescence, but they are large for the size of the plant.

Hymenocallis traubii blooming in a 6″ (15 cm) diameter pot

Moth-pollinated Hymenocallis flowers are fragrant and, as you can see from these photos, invariably white.  The genus gets its scientific name, which means ‘beautiful membrane’, from the tissue that connects the base of the stamens.  This cup varies in size from species to species and is shared by Ismene, a genus of closely related bulbs from Peru.  Ismene and Hymenocallis are distinguished primarily by their foliage.  In Hymenocallis, the leaves are arranged in a simple rosette, while in Ismene, the leaf bases are clasped together to form a pseudostem.  Also, Hymenocallis flowers tend to face up, while Ismene flowers are held horizontally, facing out.

Two old primary hybrids of Ismene are readily available from bulb vendors in the Spring:  Ismene ‘Sulphur Queen’ and Ismene x festalis.  Both are large plants that grow well in 5-gallon or larger nursery pots, and I. x festalis, at least, is reliably hardy in my garden.  I have been growing I. ‘Sulphur Queen’ in a pot, but I think by the end of this year I’ll finally have enough bulbs to try a few in the ground.

Ismene ‘Sulphur Queen’. The strongly fragrant flowers of this hybrid open pale yellow and fade to cream because of the genetic influence of one of its parents, the bright yellow Ismene amancaes.

Some I. x festalis clones have a tendency to split, producing many small bulbs, instead of flowering.  It’s worth seeking out I. x festalis ‘Zwanenburg’, which is a reliable bloomer.

Ismene x festalis ‘Zwanenburg’ in the garden

Update:  August 20, 2017

Hymenocallis occidentalis grown in part shade with Iris tectorum and Aquilegia canadensis

One week after the first H. occidentalis bulb bloomed, a second is flowering.  I planted this bulb in a more shady spot, because I wasn’t sure how much sun H. occidentalis needed.  As you can see, it has fewer flowers than the one planted in full sun, but I was able to get a picture of fresh, undamaged blooms.  My impression is that H. occidentalis has larger flowers than my other Hymenocallis, but I’ll need to make measurements of other plants next year to be sure


Summer vacation: a plant geek visits the Pacific northwest.

IMG_7126 adjust
Mount Baker (Kweq’ Smánit), an active stratovolcano in the northern Cascades, as seen from Semiahmoo Spit in Whatcom County, Washington.

Two weeks ago we joined my wife’s parents, her sister, and her sister’s family for a week’s vacation in northwestern Washington State.  It was my first trip to the Pacific northwest, other than a long-ago conference in downtown Seattle, so I was thrilled to see the spectacular scenery and enjoyed exploring ecosystems very different from the familiar environment of the east coast.

Even the roadside flowers on the drive north from Seattle-Tacoma airport were different than what we would see along North Carolina roads.  I recognized the most common plant, fireweed (Chaemanerion angustifolium), because it also grows in eastern Maine where we go for an annual week’s escape from the heat and humidity.

Chaemanerion angustifolium (fireweed) at the side of the road near Padilla Bay.
Fireweed closeup
Fireweed in Lynn Canyon Park, Vancouver

Fireweed is found throughout northern Asia, Europe, and North America, but it is absent from the North Carolina piedmont.  In fact, it reaches the southern edge of its range in North Carolina, but it has only been recorded from a few counties in the Blue Ridge mountains.

Another common roadside weed was completely new to me, but a quick browse through a field guide in a museum gift shop revealed that it was Spiraea douglasii (hardhack), native to the pacific Northwest but apparently an invasive weed in Europe.

Spiraea douglasii near Padilla Bay

Other roadside plants were truly weeds–exotic plants that had escaped from gardens and naturalized.  The most common were sweet peas and common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).  The foxgloves came in various shades of white, pink, and purple, but my favories were a rich magenta:

Digitalis purpureae
Digitalis purpurea growing at the side of the road in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

We spent most of our time along the coast, exploring State parks and other interesting spots between Bellingham, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia–basically the region where Mount Baker dominates the skyline.  The shoreline in this area alternates between rocky promontories and muddy bays:

Larrabee State Park
The rocky shore of Samish Bay at Larrabee State Park
Samish Bay
Mud/sand flats on Samish Bay at Taylor Shellfish Farms
Eschscholzia californica
Eschscholzia californica (California poppies) growing in the sand at Taylor Shellfish Farms

The white sand beaches of North Carolina are justifiably famous, but I much prefer exploring rocky shores where the kids can scramble up and down, and we can poke around in tidepools to find interesting creatures.


The sea life was almost more interesting than the plants, but there was plenty to hold my interest on land, too.

The woods, from sea level up into the mountains, were predominantly conifers, and it was disconcerting to realize that I couldn’t identify any of the trees.  To my eyes, accustomed to details of the eastern deciduous forest, the firs, hemlocks, and western red cedars were just an undifferentiated dark mass.

Western forest
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep”…but what are they?

Even the broadleaf trees were strange.  Down near sea level, the most striking was Arbutus menziesii (arbutus, madrona). This species, found primarily near the coast from California to British Columbia, is a member of the heather and rhodondedron family, Ericaceae.  With its leathery leaves and red, peeling bark, it reminds me of Arctostaphylos (manzanita) bushes that I saw in Arizona.


In sheltered spots, the arbutus were fairly large trees, but my favorites were the gnarled dwarfs growing out of cracks in exposed rock faces.  On those same rocky slopes, particularly along Chuckanut Drive beside Samish Bay, I also saw beautiful sedums in full bloom.


I think they may have been S. oreganum, although I’m not entirely certain.  In Deception Pass State Park at the northern tip of Whidbey Island I found another Sedum with very glaucus leaves.  Perhaps S. spathulifolium?


Away from the water, a beautiful white-flowered shrub was fairly common in shady spots under the trees.  I had no idea what it was, but its leaves reminded me a little of hawthorns.  When I got a chance to flip through the aforementioned field guide, I discovered that it was Holodiscus discolor (creambush, ocean spray).  Hawthorns and creambush are both members of the rose family, Rosaceae, so I guess I wasn’t too far off.

Holodiscus discolor
Holodiscus discolor flowers and foliage

The most common understory bush in the lowland woods was, like arbutus, a member of the Ericaceae.  Depending on the location, Gaultheria shallon (Salal) was either in bloom or had ripening berries.

Gaultheria shallon flowers
Gaultheria shallon flowers
Gaultheria shallon berries
Gaultheria shallon berries

One morning, we left the coast and drove up into Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, following the Mt. Baker Highway (SR 542), so the children could have a chance to play in snow in the middle of summer.  At about 1000 feet (305 m) above sea level, we stopped to walk along the North Fork Nooksack River (Horseshoe Bend Trail).

North Fork Nooksack River

In heavy shade beside the river, I found some very interesting shrubs with spiny stems and a conical mass of bright red berries:

Oplopanax horridus

They were Oplopanax horridus, Devil’s Club or Devil’s walking stick.  This species has a disjunct range that includes the Pacific northwest from Oregon to Alaska and, oddly, a few islands in Lake Superior.

Along the side of the road were the inevitable foxgloves, and some very nice Aruncus dioicus (goat’s beard), a plant that is also found in North Carolina (and Asia, and Europe).

Aruncus dioicus
Aruncus dioicus

I also saw a different Spiraea species with round flower heads instead of the conical inflorescences of S. douglasii:

Spiraea densiflora
Spiraea densiflora (subalpine spiraea)

Continuing to drive up into the mountains, we stopped for a picnic lunch at Picture Lake (4200′, 1280 m) and admired the view of Mount Shuksan.


While walking around the lake, I noticed numerous clumps of what appeared to be a very vigorous orchid. Unfortunately, they were not yet in bloom, but I suspect that they were Epipactis gigantea.

Are they Epipactis? They have a certain orchidaceous je ne sais quoi.

I also found numerous beautiful Erythronium montanum (avalanche lilies):

Erythronium montanum
Erythronium montanum beside Picture Lake

Erythronium montanum

Continuing on, we followed the road higher into the mountains.  And then there weren’t any more interesting plants to look at, because we had reached the snow.  That was fun, too. I had never tromped around in snow, in July, while wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals.

Artist Point (5100′, 1554 m), the end of Mt. Baker Highway

In addition to exploring State Parks and the National Forest in Washington, we also checked out two public gardens in Canada:  Butchart Gardens and VanDusen Botanical Garden.  Butchart Gardens are on Vancouver Island, so we took the car ferry over from Tsawwassen on the mainland.  The winding route through the Strait of Georgia and the Gulf Islands was so beautiful that it would have been worthwhile, even if we had just turned around and returned immediately.


Active Pass Lighthouse on the tip of Georgina Point, Mayne Island, marks the point where the ferry begins to wind its way among the Gulf Islands.

A high point of the trip was spotting a pod of killer whales:



The Butchart Gardens would have to be spectacularly beautiful in order to do justice to their surroundings, and the staff have obviously been working hard to accomplish that goal.  The plants were an interesting mix of flowering shrubs, colorful annuals, perennials that wouldn’t be out of place in an English cottage garden, and tropicals that thrive in the mild coastal climate.  The landscaping was truly lovely:


But occasionally, it was all a little too much for my taste:


The gardens were clearly envisioned as works of art, rather than collections of interesting plants.  With the exception of the rose garden, no labels marred the perfectly coiffed flower beds.  If visitors want to know the identity of plants, they can consult a little pamphlet or ask at an office by the front gate.

My favorite plant in the garden was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a little orchid that I found tucked away in a quiet corner.

Epipactis helleborine
Epipactis helleborine

Epipactis helleborine is native to temperate Eurasia, but it has become widely naturalized in North America.  I  have a suspicion that these small and somewhat drab orchids, so unlike the other plants in the gardens, were self-seeding weeds that had eluded the diligent gardeners.

Once I knew what to look for, I started noticing E. helleborine elsewhere, including in Vancouver, the site of the other public garden that we visited on one of the last days of our trip.

The VanDusen Botanical Garden is my kind of garden:  an collection of interesting and well-grown plants organized and labeled for easy identification.  Despite that, it is also one of the most beautiful botanical gardens that I have ever visited.  And although it is close to the heart of Vancouver, it was far less crowded than the Butchart Gardens.  I could have stayed there all day.

VanDusen Botanical Gardens
VanDusen Botanical Garden

The Sino-Himalayan collection was fantastic, although the rhododendrons were long past blooming.  The Chilean and Australian collections were also fascinating–the mild climate permits cultivation of plants that we can only dream of on the east coast.  Speaking of the east coast, we skipped the eastern North American collection.  Been there, seen that.

Scattered around the garden were beautiful and unusual trees.  One of my favorites was a cultivar of our southeastern native, Catalpa bignonioides, with bright yellow green leaves.  The unusually colored foliage made a lovely backdrop for its flowers.

Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea'
Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’


I also liked these brobdingnagian Christmas trees:

Sequoiadendron giganteum
Sequoiadendron giganteum with juvenile Homo sapiens for scale.

According to Gerald B. Straley in Trees of Vancouver: a Guide to the Unusual and Common Trees of the City (UBC Press, Vancouver, 1992), these young giant sequoias were planted in 1973.  They have grown well in the past 44 years.

With the visit to VanDusen, our week was almost over.  We returned to Sea-Tac airport and turned in our car, ready to return to the overheated sauna that we call North Carolina in the summer.  But the northwest had one last treat for us. Not many airports have a view this spectacular:

Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier, another active stratovolcano and the highest peak in the Cascades, as seen from the top of the main parking deck at Sea-Tac airport.

We’ll be back.